Monday 31 May 2010


A few years ago the image in my mind of a 'writer' was very different to what I know now is the reality. The term 'writer' conjured up images of myself sitting at a writing desk made of wood, by a window, in the glow of the sun as I frantically scribbled away.

(painting on left - "I am half sick of shadows", said the Lady of Shalott by J W Waterhouse)

The reality I know is very different. My desk made of chipboard, sits on the opposite side of the room to the window, and is mainly used as a dressing table. I sit on my bed in the corner with my laptop resting on my knee, as I type away.

Another image that often came to me when I heard the term writer was of fields of wildflowers, wearing a long flowing dress as I sat and wrote great works in long hand with paper, a quill and an ink pot. Romantic stuff huh?

(painting on right - Ophelia by J W Waterhouse)

Again reality bites. Long flowing dresses make me look even shorter than I am. Fields of flowers bring on my hay fever with a vengeance. And I cannot write for very long in long hand. The longer I write the faster I write. The faster I write the more illegible my handwriting the point that I cannot read it myself. And then my wrist begins to ache.

So reality sees me dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, filling myself up with hay fever remedies, whilst scribbling the odd note down in a notebook until I can get to my laptop to actually 'write' anything of any length.

On an entirely different note - the paintings I have used to illustrate this post are by one of my favourite artists - J W Waterhouse. I love not only his style but also his subjects. You may be forgiven for thinking he painted in the mid nineteenth century alongside the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. However he did in fact paint later than them, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, having been born in 1849, around the time that the first Pre-Raphaelite exhibition began. I was very dismayed to hear about the exhibition of Waterhouse's work last year, on account of the fact that I found out about it just after it had finished.

Tuesday 25 May 2010

Book Review: How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries

From my experience of 'how to write' books I have found the ones that best fit the genre I'm working in fall in to two categories: mystery and historical.

That is why I was so happy when I came across How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries by Kathy Lynn Emerson. This is the only book I have seen that looks at historical crime/mystery. If there are any others out there do let me know.

Kathy Lynn Emerson is a writer of historical mysteries including two series, as well as having written in a number of other genres. So she knows what she is talking about.

I have read this book all the way through and now as I plan and research my novel I find myself returning to it more often than some other books.

There is some very good advice in it, and it seems to concentrate more on the fiction side of things. The fact that you can make up a place if you want to, or invent your 'sleuth'. Like other books on historical fiction this has sections on anachronisms and research. However in this book there are also sections on marketing and selling your novel [not necessarily in that order].

Kathy also includes a case study of one of her own books, where she explains how the idea came about, and her research, writing and subsequent revisions. There is also a section on writing historical mystery short stories.

There is a brief section on female sleuths. As I have decided that my main female character will become a sleuth this section encouraged me to think long and hard about who she was and what her life was like. Women could not always be police officers, and the further back in time you go the more women seem to be tied to their husband and why should my character be gallivanting around solving mysteries?

Well I'm not going to divulge that information here but without this book I wouldn't have considered the what, the why or the how come.

Monday 24 May 2010

Random Thought #6 - Imagination

Some people say they have no imagination is so big that I can't imagine what that's like! ;)

Saturday 22 May 2010

Book Review: The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction

I've decided to review some of the books I have to do with writing. I have recently got rid of some writing books - sold on eBay or packed off to the charity shop - but I thought that I would review some of the ones I have kept and the ones I haven't read sometime in the future.

So first up is a book that I have recently finished reading:

The Art and Craft of Historical Fiction by James Alexander Thom

The novel that I am working on is a historical mystery so I thought that this book would be good to read.
James Alexander Thom has written a number of American frontier books, that are heavily researched. This is reflected in The Art and Craft of Writing Historical Fiction where his advice on research draws heavily on examples from his own experiences.
There were some chapters that I feel didn't really apply to me whereas other chapters I found quite useful.

One of the chapters that didn't really apply to me was the chapter that dealt with genealogy. One of the main assumptions of this book is that, although fiction, you are writing about real people. The vast majority of my characters are fictional. I am drawing on some real life people from the period that I am looking at, however if any completely real people do appear it will only be very briefly.

There are also parts of the book that focuses on 'facts' that were actually made-up and are now seen to be true.

I did find a lot of good advice in this books though. The chapters I found the most useful were Songs, Smells, and Sensations, and How Not to Write Historical Fiction. These chapters gave advice on cliches, avoiding anachronisms, describing sounds and smells.
There are also chapters on research, credibility and 'modifying the truth'.

This book has helped me with the planning of my novel. Originally I was going to have a major event happen before the second main character appeared. However after reading this book and its advice on starting in the action or with an event, rather than describing the scene too much, I have decided to start as though the event has already happened and the second main character is already involved.

Overall I like this book though I think that some of its advice is directed more at writers whose characters are all real historical figures. A good book to have although trying to read it straight through is a little challenging.

Saturday 15 May 2010

The Wonderful World of Dolly's Bags!

To all those who love handbags...this is the review for you.

I've never done a product review before but here goes anyway. I have also never included photos in a post before so hopefully all will go well.
I first came across these handbags via Lisa Freemont - a blogger and YouTuber, who did a couple of reviews on these bags.

So let me introduce you to Dolly's Bags! Dolly makes all the bags herself, as well as other accessories. And I absolutely love them! This is a review of the products I recently ordered from her - but there are lots more styles, fabrics and items to choose from so you really have to check out her website.

The bags arrived just in time as the handles on my current shop-bought handbag are disintegrating - it took me a week to realise that the bits all over my coat were coming off of my handbag.

Dolly's Bags is part of the company 'Dungaree Dolly's' and is based in the USA. My order included 3 items and including shipping time took about seven weeks to get to me - remember the items are handmade - and very well I might add.
I was going to film or take photos as I opened the parcel, however I was so excited it took all of my will power not to tear the pretty tissue paper, it was wrapped in, to shreds so pictures of the products will have to do. It was all very well packaged and arrived quickly.
Item Number 1
The first item that I ordered was the 'Messenger Bag', which I got in candy heart print fabric. The original lining colour was baby pink, however I asked that the purple pin dot lining be used instead - purple is my favourite colour if you hadn't already guessed!
I love this fabric, it is very brightly coloured and eye-catching. I can't wait to use it.
Being short of stature I asked Dolly about adjusting the strap length and she very nicely added an adjustable strap to bag for me. =)

The bag is really well made and stitched together. It feels as though will last a really long time.

Item Number 2

The second item that I ordered was the 'Bella Bag'. This bag is very very cute, and I ordered this bag in black cherry print fabric with red confetti lining. I have a slight obsession with cherry print fabric, I also have an obsession with Mary Jane style shoes but that is a different story entirely.

The Bella Bag will hold a lot more than it's exterior suggests, which is great. I'm a little sick of carrying around a bag that looks like it is the size of a suitcase, just to accommodate everything that I carry around with me.

Both bags have a magnetic closure on them and internal pockets.

Item Number 3

The last item that I ordered was a sunglasses case. I had been looking for a case for my sunglasses for some time. I wanted to prevent my glasses getting scratched or damaged in my bag, but all the cases I had looked at were plain and to put it bluntly...boring.

Of course I had to get it in black cherry print fabric - I also own a black cherry print dress and headband, so all I need now is cherry print shoes for a complete outfit!

My favourite sunglasses are quite big but they fit in this case perfectly.

I will carry Dolly's business card with me wherever I take these bags so that when people ask where my bag is from, and they will, I can hand them Dolly's card.

I may never buy a shop bought handbag again...unless there is a sale on! ;)

The only problem I have now is deciding which bag I should order next...and how soon is too soon to put in another order! =D

Sunday 9 May 2010

Random Thought #5 - Wasting Your Breath

Do you ever get the feeling that when you speak to some people, they couldn't really care less, and that you are wasting your breath? But by that time it is too late to do anything about it...or you will have been interrupted.

Write it down in a blog and the people who actually give a damn will read it - and your breath will have been saved.

Friday 7 May 2010

Michael Buble and Naturally 7

Just a short post today as I had to tell you all about what I got up to yesterday.

Last night I went to see Michael Buble in concert at Sheffield Arena.There are a number of words to describe the night but the one that springs most to mind is:


It was absolutely fantastic - I expected it to be good but it practically blew my mind with how great it was.

A big surprise were his supporting act who I hadn't really heard of before yesterday - Naturally 7
Naturally 7 make all their music with their voices, which I hadn't realised when I listened to a bit of their music before heading out to Sheffield. If you don't know that there aren't any actual instruments, other than their voices, you can't tell just by listening.

Check them out!

Sunday 2 May 2010

I Did Not Come Here to be Insulted!

In my last post I mentioned that there are at least two films called Monkey Business. One starring Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers, and the other starring the Marx Brothers, the latter being made 21 years before the former.

I am a very big fan of the Marx Brothers, owning all 13 Marx Brothers films on DVD. I believe that the most well known member of the Marx Brothers is Groucho Marx.

Groucho with his quick fire insults and responses to other people's attempts to put him down, and his array of unusual character names and professions: Captain Geoffrey T. Spaulding, Explorer; Wolf J. Flywheel, Private Eye; Rufus T. Firefly, President of Freedonia; Otis B. Driftwood, Operatic Agent. And from my favourite Marx Brothers film, A Day at the Races, Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush, a Veterinary Surgeon and Horse Doctor who is masquerading as a Medical Doctor.

As I mentioned before Groucho is well known for his insults, that roll easily off his tongue. Insults that go by so fast you don't realise they are in fact insults at first. And quick witted answers to things that other people have said, that when you think about them do make perfect a way.

'You must fight for this woman's honour, which is more than she ever did.' Rufus T. Firefly, Duck Soup

Naval Officer *looks at passport*: 'Say this picture doesn't look like you.'
Groucho: 'Well it doesn't look like you either.'
                                                                                                                 Monkey Business

*Whilst taking Harpo's pulse* 'Either he's dead or my watch has stopped'
                                                                                             Dr Hugo Z. Hackenbush, A Day at the Races

I could go on and on listing Groucho's best lines, but I would be here for some considerable time. Someone once said (unfortunately I forget who) that they would rather be insulted by Groucho Marx than complimented by anyone else. I sort of understand that statement.

And so, lastly, I will give you my favourite Groucho Marx insult.

It is from Monkey Business, and the scene goes like this:

The ship has docked at the harbour and the passengers are beginning to make their way to have their passports checked. A woman, a well known star of some kind, is being interviewed by a group of reporters. Groucho swiftly steps into this group, takes the notepad and paper off the reporter stood next to him and begins firing random questions at the woman. She begins to look a little irritated with him and then he asks:

'Is it true you are getting a divorce as soon as your husband regains his eyesight?'

May the Marx Brothers live on through our laughter and DVD players!

Saturday 1 May 2010

Blank Page Syndrome

'That's the trouble with being a chemist, you can't actually think. Every now and then you feel compelled to sit and stare at a sheet of white paper hoping it will speak to you but it never does.'

Dr Barnaby Fulton, Monkey Business, 1952

The other day I was watching the film Monkey Business - which is a different film to the film of the same name that stars the Marx brothers - when the above line struck a chord with me, so much so that I had to pause the film and write it down.
Dr Barnaby Fulton was played by Cary Grant, and the second line of this quote made me think of 'Writer's Block' or what I am going to call 'Blank Page Syndrome' (BPS), as it is not just writers that suffer from this.
The first part of the quote has little to do with writing - I'm sure most writer's do have the ability to think.

Most writers, at some point or another, will have sat down in front of their computer with a blank document on the screen, or turned to a brand new page in a notebook, and will have had no idea what to put on it.
And as the seconds tick by and become minutes, the vast, white emptiness, begins to scare them slightly.

I think one of the reasons I get BPS is because I want to write it all in order, the beginning, the middle and then the end. However a lot of the time I do not have the middle, I only have the beginning and the end, and so while I try to think of the middle the page remains blank.

I am currently working on changing that, by typing the end in a few lines down from the beginning, it is done. The gap in the middle will need filling at some point but the bits that were floating round in my head are down on paper, be it real paper or a computer screen.

Perhaps if I stick at it, these bouts of BPS will become a thing of the past.

We must remember that we need to speak to the piece of paper and not rely on the hope that it will speak to us. Because it never will...