For some people it’s de rigeur to drop a morceau of francais into their conversazione. If the plebs they are speaking to is not au fait with le francais, they enjoy a sense of the old schadenfreude. After all, we all need a bit of yin and yang, don’t we – if we know what it means. (Probably not.)
Or maybe they’re into a bit of Latin. They like ad hoc arrangements or bore people ad nauseam or even ad referendum, which, despite sounding like Brexit-speak, means to the ‘point of reference’.
Or into Americana. They go to the bathroom (other than to take a bath). They own an SUV, which has a hood (and their car (sorry, automobile) would have a trunk if it weren’t an SUV.) If someone offered them chips, what would they expect?
The usual reason given for using foreign words is that you achieve a more finely-tuned meaning. Rubbish! Put that in your poubelle… or your trash can…schnell… pronto. (Oh… no. That doesn’t mean promptly, as it sounds, but is colloquial Italian for ‘Hello’.) I would love to be able to justify my stand by re-stating the common belief that there are more words in English than any other language, but, alas, this is not true. Whereas the Oxford English Dictionary lists 171,476 English words in common usage, that is nothing to the Koreans’ 1,100,373 words and, in Europe, we’re roundly beaten by the Swedes (600,000) and Lithuanians and Norwegians (500,000 each), even though it was the Danes (well down the list on 200,000 to 300,000)* who invented the word hygge.
Hygge means enjoying the simple pleasures in life, and we cou
ld all do with enjoying the simple pleasures of our own language, even though I know that all languages are a mishmash of each other. I’m also aware that languages are living things and develop all the time. However, there’s a huge difference between using a foreign word for something that English-speaking people
don’t encounter, such as tsunami or Perestroika, and substituting where there’s a perfectly adequate English word.
People may use foreign words to show off, like John Cleese
‘s character in The Dead Parrot sketch. (‘I wish to complain about this parrot what I purchased not half an hour ago from this very boutique.’**) Or because they’re embarrassed. (‘I wish to use the toilette.’) And there is the danger of misunderstanding your non-English vocabulary and saying something you don’t mean, possibly something offensive. In all these situations, people end up looking ridiculous. The Academie Francaise carefully monitors all incursions into the French language. We should do the same for ours.
This is going to have to be a very short post, given that it’s already eleven pm, and I’m knackered. I’m writing to the IWSG prompts.
2. What worked for me this year? I worked, at the day-job. Hence, very little writing done. Today, I discovered I have a learning observation on Monday, so I’ve spent literally all day writing a lesson plan and presentation.
3. What do I hope to achieve next year, in terms of writing and publishing? Some more stories placed. Well, let’s be brutally frank. Stories can’t be placed unless they’re submitted. Let’s make that more stories submitted.
4. Special skills I’m interested in? Improved social media skills. I fear my posts are dead boring. And I really must get into Twitter. (However many times have I said that to myself?)
5. Personal life? Yes, I do have one of those. I have a lovely family. I have friends who I love seeing. I have a church who need my time and attendance too; I’ve just taken up preaching. I need to strike a balance between all these things.
What do I want to complete? Some pieces of writing.
…I’m having a cup of tea and a biscuit, then I’m going to bed.
One of my nicer tasks as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers is to inform winners that they have won in our competitions. First-place is awarded a book-token prize, and his/her story is published in Christian Writer, which is circulated to the ACW’s seven hundred members. Second-place also receives a (smaller) book token, although third-place doesn’t, and the names of first-, second- and third-place are published in Christian Writer as winners. What I find is, over and over again, that the most important thing to the winner is his/her story appearing in Christian Writer, not the book token, and, to the second and third-placed winners, seeing their name on the printed page.
This reflects the fact that very few of us can afford to write for a living. Most of us have day-jobs or are retired,and this affects the amount of time, energy and head-space we can devote to writing. Not a good thing. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to get some sort of grant to write? Take a look at the Deborah Rogers Foundation Writer’s Award, worth £10,000, for an unpublished writer. You have until 13 December to apply. (Thanks to Patsy Collins for this one.)
By the way – I have to slip this in – we have another competition, for historical fiction, this time. All you need to do is to write a short story, where action takes place in nineteen seventy or earlier, and with a Christian element (perhaps a major character who is a Christian or a Christian setting, such as a church). 1200 words, please, and the deadline is New Years Eve. Free to ACW (Association of Christian Writers) members and, for everybody else, £3 for first entry and £2 for second entry. More information on the ACW site. The prizes are £25 book token (first-place) and £10 (second-place). And the winner will be published in Christian Writer.
Can’t think of any suitable pics for this post, so I’ve included some random flowers. At least they’re pretty and autumnal/wintry.
A dodgy printer which won’t print black from my computer, but will from my husband’s machine. From whatever source its print commands, there is a delay of about half an hour between each document, until the thing has generated an error message saying it can’t print the previous one, even though it has printed it… You are following this, aren’t you?
Half our long thin house being dead to wifi because it’s out of range of the router.
So we order a new laser printer (more expensive than we’d intended – as always) and a repeater. On Wednesday, the repeater arrived in a neat box. The printer didn’t… although I did receive a text message from the courier driver, stating he’d been unable to make a delivery because no one was in to sign for it. He kindly provided a photo…. of a house 500 yards from ours.
Meanwhile I attempt to install the repeater. I try the simple option, the one they wrote about in the reviews, involving a button on the router, but that didn’t work. I try Option 1, Option 2, not the next option, because it requires an ethernet cable, which I don’t possess. I have lunch. Then I try to sort out the courier. Ooh… and I have to put my iPhone and iPad back on wifi, and my husband’s, as they’d all fallen off.
.On Thursday, I realise my iPhone isn’t receiving emails, and refusing to install an update. Also all our Apple devices are still dropping off the wifi. I’m on the Apple helpline, in Ireland, for most of the day, but, by early evening, Michael and I have managed to sort it out. Meanwhile, the courier sends me another text to say they’ve attempted a second delivery 500 yards up the road.
This morning, a third courier appears – wait for it – at OUR front door – AND – beside him is a box which… might… just contain a printer. He has a special app, he says, http://www.essexhighways.org which can locate any house in Essex. Phew!
And again, phew!
After he’s gone, my husband fingers the repeater. He wants me to send it back where it came from. I text my son to ask him if he’s got the ethernet cable. He has, in his flat in London, and, although he was coming to visit us this weekend, for reasons nothing to do with computer-gate, he’s not now. In the afternoon, I ring the the helpline. Within seconds I’m redirected to an American single dialling tone. “Hi,” says Lee. “How can I help you today?” He leads me through resetting the repeater – using my iPhone. There I am squinting at the tiny iPhone screen with Lee telling me to type in dee passworrrd. Now which password do you mean, Lee? Do you mean the WPA. The router password? The row-der? The repeater? The extender? No, no, dee passworrrd. When we got to the point where the lights on the repeater/extender were all on, he was desperate to get off the line. Good thing I kept him on, though, because the last bit of the installation wasn’t anything like the instructions. But we got there. I even got a signal in the kitchen. I suppose I should really say thank you, Lee.
Then I installed the printer – by myself – following diagrams, and the two chunky manuals delivered with it. Well, I used the ten or so pages in English, anyway. One and only husband did the lifting, and made a cup of tea. Not bad for a little woman, eh?
Now for the serious bit. The amount, and level, of technical expertise that is expected of home computer owners is just ridiculous. To the geeky people who build these devices, installation probably does seem very straightforward and that’s how they tell it in the marketing blurb. PC reviewers are no better. But it’s not like that for the poor customers. Some of us muddle through, swearing, getting very stressed and getting their husbands stressed. Others call in techy friends, taking up hours of their time. Many older people call in grandchildren who are supposed to be ‘good with computers’; the grandchild will do all sorts of whizzy things to the device, leaving the grandparents not knowing what on earth they’ve done, and unable to use it.
Young people don’t know everything about computers… until they’ve done the appropriate training. For twenty years, I taught IT to sixteen to nineteen year olds. By the time, myself and my colleagues had finished with them, they did know about computers. We home-owners should give those kids some work. Instead of going through computer-gate hell, we should call in professionals.
I am sad that life and juggling work projects has interfered with my chasing NaNoWriMo this year. But, I am still here for moral support for all the crazy writers who took the plunge. And for those of you who have never tried it… It is a roller coaster that I cannot recommend highly enough!
Last June, an article with the same title was written by Carl Zimmer and appeared in the NY Times. It started, “A novelist scrawling away in a notebook in seclusion may not seem to have much in common with an NBA player doing a reverse layup on a basketball court before a screaming crowd. But if you could peer inside their heads, you might see some striking similarities in how their brains were churning.” And I was hooked.
No, I’m not doing Nano this year. Don’t even mention Nano to me. I’m exhausted. My stomach is out-of-order and has been, on and off, since Sunday. Then there’s the four-letter word – WORK. I’ve just got enough time to write my Insecure Writers’ Support Group post.
You see, Ofsted came to my college at the beginning of this week. (Non-Brits, you’re so lucky not to have Ofsted.) In the UK, this organisation inspects schools, colleges, childminders and any other place where it can extend its remit.) Accordingly, last weekend was spent rushing around preparing all the paperwork they were expected to want (and even some teaching materials) in case an inspector came into my classroom, something which – statistically – was unlikely to happen. Except that it did, on Monday afternoon. I was one of just three tutors to be visitated in my college site.
Two years ago, when I was in between teaching jobs, I did do Nano and I reached my 50,000 words. I thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly the camaraderie online and being able to give myself the excuse to prioritise writing over everything else. Seeing your word total rising and rising every day bolsters your confidence like nothing else, makes you feel like a proper writer, that that publishing contract is a mere detail.
However, although I finished in the Nano sense – and I have a certificate, and I earned a half-price version of Scrivener through it – I didn’t reach the end of my novel’s storyline. Also, later, I was told by a commissioning editor that publishers took adult novels in the region of 80,000 words plus. I did, however, manage to reach the proper ‘end’ of my novel on the morning before I went for my induction at the college where I teach now (yes, the one with unwelcome visitors).
So, sadly, I will not be writing my next opus this month. I will, however, continue to edit, and re-draft the 2015 novel. Very best of luck, everybody who’s attempting Nano this year.
Sharpen your pencils. Buy a new biro. Wipe down your computer keyboard.
The next Association of Christian Writers competition is for historical fiction with a Christian element (for example, a Christian character or a Christian setting). The deadline is 31 December 2017 and the word count 1200 words. More information will be available on the ACW website any time now. I’m giving you, my Dear Readers, the heads up, a little more thinking time.
Unlike Claire, I’m not a published historical novelist, but I do write historical short stories, some of which have been published online, and I am currently writing a novel set in a period which is just too recent to be historical. I’d hesitate to offer advice, but I’d like to share what I’ve learned about historical fiction writing as I went along.
Write a story, not a history book. The characters should lead, as in any other fiction.
Although you’ll carry out a lot of research into your historical setting, resist the temptation to include it all in your text; in fact, use very little of it. Georgette Heyer, author supreme of Regency romances, rarely mentions any solid history (the Battle of Waterloo, once or twice, perhaps). Your research may inform what your characters don’t do and think. For instance, in my novel, at various times, nobody could use a telephone, because the government had cut the lines.
Every historical fact must be accurate, especially dates. Build yourself a historical timeline and write the events of your story beside it. https://www.timeanddate.com/calendar/is a useful source for finding out the days of the week for specific dates in recent history. Use Wikipedia for general schedules of world events in particular years.
Do a site visit, remembering that cities and places change.
As well as political history, research what people wore, what they ate, how they travelled, what they thought. If possible, read contemporary books, and look at photos. If you can find any cartoons, or any jokes, study them intensely. Listen to popular music, including folk songs, paying particular attention to the lyrics. Look up any words or phrases you don’t understand, as these may be the key to the hidden soul of the people you’re writing about.
Don’t bend historical happenings to suit your plot. Use real history to generate confrontation in your story.
Consider what your characters are in a position to know, and, more importantly, what they don’t know. The general British public didn’t know about gas chambers in concentration camps until some time after World War Two had ended. And how they learned it; the characters in my WIP learned all that was important, listening to Radio Free Europe whilst leaning against a toilet seat.
In stories set in recent history (after about 1900), real historical persons should feature hardly at all. Before 1900, use them if you wish, accurately, and without lapsing into biography.
Editors of historical fiction ezines and mags tell me that stories set in The Second World War and the Victorian era are in glut – avoid these settings. Regency period, also, but certain markets can’t get enough of them.
Whereas people of every age have the same personalities, those living in byegone eras have their own worldviews and ways of treating servants, other races, animals, women, children. They were definitely not politically correct. No girl knights, please, or Roman families without slaves. Also, European and North American characters in earlier eras are more likely to have strong religious views – a bonus, seeing as you need to include a Christian element.
(If you’ve read my last More Than Writers blog post, you will have read all this before. Sorry. It’s worth advertising the historical fiction comp again.)
I would answer No to both poll questions. I find writing descriptions tedious, that they slow me down when what I really want to do is get on with the action. When I’m reading, I often skip through descriptions. When editing, I enjoy refining a piece of dialogue to get it just right for the character’s voice and, at the same time, to move the story on. However, even I recognise – oh so reluctantly – that writing is much more effective when readers are shown how characters spoke, any hand movements, facial expressions and how they held their bodies, but, here I am, half way through a novel of characters who are all raising their eyebrows and rolling their eyes (or so it seemed to me). If you are an editor or publisher, please stop reading now. The Novel won’t be like it when it reaches you.
I have found some resources to help writing descriptions. I came across Descriptionari – a website where other writers post their favourite descriptions – accidentally. To be honest, at first, it felt like cheating, like one of those pay-for-GCSE-essay sites, but it isn’t because what fits the Descriptionari writer’s context doesn’t fit yours. Yet, it is so helpful to be able to analyse what other writers have written in similar situations. I also find the Macmillan Dictionary Online Thesaurus to be better than other thesauruses as it includes related words too.
Inevitably, I have also discovered, on the internet, many many articles saying, in so many words, ‘Don’t do descriptions’… and then told you how to do them. These demotivated me. As I put my computer down and picked up my book, wondering why all other writers could do descriptions and I couldn’t, I realised that the biggest resource of all was staring at me in the face.
Coincidentally, when I was doing a bit of clearing up at home, I found a copy of The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy (actually awarded to my father as a school prize in the 1930s). As this book was falling to bits, I downloaded it on to my Kindle and I’m still reading it. I know what you’re going to say, Dear Reader, that nobody reads The Forsyte Saga, but those people who watch the box-set are missing some of the most vivid word descriptions ever, of characters, how they move, how they look, how they speak, how they react without speaking.
Soames looked very real, sitting square yet almost elegant with the clipped moustache on his pale face, and a tooth showing where a lip was lifted in a fixed smile.
Wednesday is the day for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group. I’m writing this post early because I’m about to go on holiday and my iPad is refusing to charge. (I’m sure computer equipment has a mind of its own, as well as a memory.)
This month I have managed to carry out quite a bit of editing of The Novel, although I’m nowhere near the point of submitting, or even sending to a professional editor. I wonder why it is we always feel more secure about our writing when we’re at this stage. I wonder, wonder, wonder…
This month we’re asked if we have ever slipped any of your personal information into your characters, either by accident or on purpose. Well, my main character in The Novel lives in a town very close to me, the town where I say I live when people ask, and where I worked for twenty years – although she’s there in the 1980s, when I wasn’t, which means I have to check that schools, hospitals, roads etc were in the same place then as now.
The real problem for me is that, if I’m not careful, all my characters tend, after a few chapters, to become me. I’m on my guard against this more than I used to be, because I’m aware of the problem. Someone once said to me that I should let my characters just develop on their own, and become who they become, but everything comes out of my imagination, doesn’t it? Possible strategies for dealing with it (seeing as I’m a woman) might be to write about a male leading character – perhaps.
Looking forward to reading other writers’ posts, iPad permitting.
Hope this title is not too pompous. When you’re writing historical fiction, it’s always the little details that you crave, and can’t find, like what people ate and drank. Including these can bring your story to life. Having been around longer on this earth than many writers, I’m setting down some of the things I remember about food in the 1960s Britain.
Older people insisted that strawberries must be eaten with bread and butter
Strawberries served with sugar, which was stirred into them in the bowl hours beforehand, drawing out the strawberry juices which sweated into it, generating pink goo.
Melon (always hard, always honeydew) as a starter, with a glace cherry on top, and served with a little dish of ground ginger?
How rare pineapples were. I remember seeing one for the first time in Sainsbury’s in about 1967, priced 3s 6d.
Blueberries were for Americans only.
Tinned fruit as a treat. One tin did the whole family.
A lot of rhubarb. Every family grew rhubarb (always very tart, made your teeth go chalky). Stewed rhubarb was often used to eke out other more expensive fruit.
Puddings (Desserts were for Americans)
Queen of puddings: breadcrumbs mixed with egg yolk, vanilla essence and jam, topped with a light meringue crust.
Cabinet pudding: like bread and butter pudding, but using slices of stale cake.
Apple pie, baked in a pie dish, with the apples swimming about in juice at the bottom and the crust several inches above it, held aloft by a pie funnel. Also plum pie – as for apple pie but with tinned plums.
Manchester tart: pastry case baked blind, spread with jam at the bottom, then topped with custard (see below).
Chocolate tart: pastry case baked blind, and with chocolate goo on top.
Custard: mix 2 dessertspoonfuls of custard powder and 2 dessertspoonfuls of sugar in a very little milk at the bottom of a pudding basin. Pour on boiling milk and stir vigorously until it thickens. This was an essential condiment for every pudding.
Egg custard (the genuine article). Egg and milk, with nutmeg on top, prepared in a pie dish and baked, at a very low temperature, for several hours. Exquisite!
Ham with a yellow crumb rind.
Potted meat. A sort of basic (and very cheap) smooth pate, sold, by the piece, from a blue rimmed enamel dish.
Stews, very watery, flavourless and generally disgusting.
Liver casserole, liver with the texture of blotting paper, but served with bacon, which gave it some sort of taste.
All hot meat served with gravy, from a gravy boat on the table, which always dripped nasty congealing droplets on the outside of its spout.
Curry served in ‘duo-cans’, one portion of the tin containing cooked rice and in the other a curried meat sauce (looked like dog food).
(Wonder why I became a vegetarian?)
Fish (a rare treat)
Watery (topped with yellow breadcrumbs – from a tub).
No prawns. Occasional shrimps, from a tin.
Tinned salmon, brought out on special occasions and served with salad. One tin would serve a whole family and guests. There were two sorts, pink (cheaper) and red (more expensive).
Boil-in-the-bag fish, mostly a watery and greasy sauce, with a small square of fish (usually coley).
(Still wondering why I became a vegetarian?)
Green vegetables predominated. My parents didn’t seem to like carrots, parsnips and swedes much (but that maybe was their personal taste).
A lot of frozen peas. Even before the age of freezers, a bag of frozen peas could be kept in the ice compartment of the fridge.
Peppers were for the French.
Freshly grown vegetables from someone’s garden gratefully received. If you had a good crop of a particular vegetable (eg runner beans) you ate runners every dinnertime until they were finished.
Sliced and always white. Delivered by the breadman daily.
Always lots of it. Yum.
Welsh Rarebit (cheese on toast, but with a touch of mustard).
Everything on toast (egg cooked in various different ways, cheese, tinned tomatoes, baked beans).
Salad. Yes, you all know about salad, but in those days they consisted of several different vegetables laid out on the plate, separately and not touching each other. There would always be lettuce (leaves pulled apart and washed in a bowl containing cold water and a piece of coal), except in deepest winter when it might be replaced by garden cress or just left out. Also tomatoes and cucumber and, if you were lucky, beetroot, or even watercress. No pepper, no grated carrot. Coleslaw was for Americans, until it took the supermarkets (and my grandmother’s table) by storm in the late 1960s, in small white tubs. At Christmas, you got small white pickled onions or huge brown pickled onions with your salad.
Soup (always out of a tin or from a packet).
Powdered sweets in packets, reconstituted with milk (instant whip, angel delight etc).
A loaf of sliced bread would also be on the table.
Timing of Meals
Breakfast was the full English, always. Even when my parents were both ill with flu, it was felt necessary that I should go to school on cereal/ egg and bacon/ toast and marmalade. I cooked it myself, setting fire to the fried bread in the grill, then making things much worse by moving the grill pan to the sink and turning on the tap. Flames leaped up to the ceiling. I ran out of the kitchen screaming, dragging my poor father out of his sickbed, only for us both to return to smoke and steam.
Dinner was generally served at midday. Many men and schoolchildren went home to eat with their families in the middle of the day. In the evening, at about five thirty to six, the family would eat high tea.
Was generally considered nasty. Foreign food was often cited as a good reason for not going abroad. “You don’t know where it’s been,” was a common comment.
I could go on. I’ve always been fascinated by food and cookery and still am. If I’ve been working on the computer, writing or preparing a lesson (work), I often break off, after lunch, to prepare our evening meal. I find doing something physical, particularly chopping vegetables, is therapeutic and refreshing. I occasionally think of running a cookery blog, but I can hardly find the time to maintain this and the Dear Reader blog.