Rosemary Johnson's writing blog

I have just reviewed K A Hitchins’ excellent book about an autistic girl, ‘The Girl at the End of the Road’ on my other blog, Dear Reader.  Please take a look.  Those of you who might have tried the Facebook or Twitter link this morning may have been disappointed, as the post managed to delete itself overnight.  Many apologies.  Fortunately, I managed to get it back, by clicking on revisions and copying and pasting pages of html.  Ho-hum.

Will write a proper post on this blog soon.  At the moment, I’m trying to write-write and build the church website, and do three part-time jobs, and do family stuff.

Yes, even when we’re quite grown up, have children and and grandchildren, and our parents have long been deceased.

1960s television

flickr

My parents weren’t great television-watchers.  There were numerous programmes I wasn’t allowed to watch, including The Man from UNCLE and Z Cars.  My grandparents watched television even less;  my grandmother would talk loudly, in a broad Leicester accent, meduck, through any programmes you attempted to watch in her presence.   Occasionally, however, even my parents went out and my grandparents babysat me.  “Oh, I always watch The Man From UNCLE,” I’d say breezily.  “We always watch Z-Cars.”  To be honest, I never figured out what was going on in The Man from UNCLE, only that my friends (who really were too young for such things) ALWAYS watched it and thought Illya Kuryakin was good looking.  I wasn’t much better understanding Z-Cars, to be honest, although my grandmother understood the plotline of one episode rather too well and queried, with my mother, what I was really permitted to view.  Now, my father was always sparring with my grandmother, so this was red rag to a bull.  Next week he had to check Z-Cars out for himself and he gave it the OK, so Z-Cars and Softly, Softly (which followed when Z-Cars proper reached its sell-by date) became part of our weekly schedule at home.

So, a few months ago, I bought a DVD of Z-Cars episodes… and left it on the shelf under our telly, while One and Only Husband and I finished off our Dr Finlay’s Casebook DVDs – except that we kept finding more and more Dr Finlay DVDs on the internet.  Dear Reader, we completed our last one on Frida – and OAOH now tells me he’s just bought another one.  Back in our home in Leicester, Dr Finlay was also taboo, but for another reason.  My mother was fed up to teeth with hearing about Scotland, where my father and his own mother had taken several holidays in Scotland, which they had enjoyed enormously, and discussed endlessly.   For OAOH, however, Dr Finlay had loaded emotional value because, each week, it was the last warm lacuna of home before his father drove him back to boarding school.   On seeing the first episode over a year ago, I was transfixed; Finlay, Cameron and Janet are such believable, distinct and sympathetically-drawn characters.  The plots (nearly) always make sense and, for their era, are quite gritty, concerning communicable diseases, illegally-imported and diseased dogs, abortion, over-bearing fathers, the setting is truly idyllic – and Finlay and Cameron drunk enough whisky to fill a Scottish Loch.

So, after Dr Finlay on Friday afternoon, we eventually broke into Z-Cars on Friday evening.  The episode we saw was the very first one, when the new crime patrol was being set up, following the death of a policeman, black-and-white (obviously) and poor quality (probably illegal!)  However,  I amazed myself by recognising Charlie Barlow, John Watt and Bert Lynch and remembering that, despite the setting really being Liverpool, the fictional location was somewhere called Newtown.  It was very atmospheric, especially the clothes (all women in skirts, some in headscarves and curlers) and the tiny house where one of the policemen lived, with a coalfire in a ceramic grate, which the wife kept tending with a dusty shovel and poker.  Very different from what’s on television now, I can still see that modern crime series learned a lot from Z-Cars:  the cameraderie and rivalries amongst the police, for instance, and the occasional lighthearted subplots.  However, some things pulled me up short:  the way one of the characters (the one in the tiny house) treated his wife like a skivvy; the smoking; Bert Lynch thumping a suspect, unprovoked, to get something out of his pocket; Barlow harranging Lynch for not arresting the (same) suspect, on the basis that the suspect had a criminal record (even though he hadn’t committed a new offence at the time Lynch was interviewing him).  And I still couldn’t work out the plot.  My husband had to explain it twice.

I enjoyed every minute of it.  But, Dear Reader, is it just the nostalgia I’m enjoying, or are these things really really good?

A lot of useful information here. In my real life, I used to teach copyright, and my students surprised by two things:
1. Copyright is presumed.
Putting (c) on a piece of work is for information only.
2. Titles are not copyright. One of my published stories has the title ‘Us and Them’ (and I didn’t get sued by Pink Floyd).
3. As Helen says in the article below, ideas are not copyright.

Blog About Writing

angryDid you hear the story of the newcomer to a writers’ group who refused to share his work in a meeting, in case someone ‘stole’ his ideas?

It’s only natural to be protective of our ideas – after all, they’re the lifeblood of writers – but was that an over-reaction or was he right to be worried? And if our ideas are used by someone else, is there anything we can do about it, or even learn from the experience?

Firstly, remember, there’s no copyright on ideas, so even if yours is ‘stolen’ and you may consider it a moral theft, there’s no legal redress. Copying an idea is not the same as plagiarism – which means to directly copy someone’s written work and pass it off as your own.

An idea, until it’s expressed in some tangible form, doesn’t actually exist. The only way to protect an idea is…

View original post 1,310 more words

For reasons that made sense in my sixteen-year-old mind, I opted not to take English A Level.  What I didn’t take on board was that this would be my last opportunity to learn literary appreciation, or how much I would need this skill in writing.  I knew I wanted to be a writer since primary school, when it seemed to me that Enid Blyton’s output was not enough.  (Yes, I know she produced loads, but I was even younger at the time.)

“If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.”  This is the advice Stephen King gives in On Writing, but he didn’t give it until 2000 and, Dear Reader, I was a child and a teenager long before that.  I wasn’t making the connection myself.  Some people might expect me, not being tutored in conventional literary criticism, to come up with new and interesting perspectives… but I’m not that intelligent.

When I read, I read for pleasure.  During the Winter of Discontent in 1978-9, I devoured Dickens in paperback, on heaving, snow-swept platforms, and in draughty commuter train corridors, always (unlike my train) racing ahead, desperate to find out – equally – what was going to happen next, and whether there would be a train to work (or home).  However, there were long periods when I didn’t open a book at all, even though I was writing reams and reams, and in a manner that was supremely suited to me myself personally.  I believed that my novels were pretty amazing (because I wasn’t comparing them with anything else), but, when I came to join online writing groups, I was gently pulled up for not developing characters and for inadequate (actually non-existent) descriptive passages.  In these groups, I was given a lot of very useful advice about writing, which I would not have needed if I had learned to read properly, to analyse structure, character and writing style.  I would like to add to Stephen King’s famous quote.  “…and take it apart.”

Dylan Thomas's study at Laugharn

Dylan Thomas’s study at Laugharn

I review (almost) every book I read on my other WordPress blog, Dear Reader; this is my attempt to analyse what books are about, how the storyline works, how characters are drawn and to think about written style.  However, when I read a critique of a work of literature by someone who really knows how to do it, I’m gobsmacked at what he/she finds, often angles that I didn’t see at all.  I have paid a heavy price for my decision to take history, geography and maths at A level.  My reason was that I knew, from being in English classes lower in the school, that the English staff were obsessed with Dylan Thomas and D H Lawrence, writers I did not get on with at all.  Actually, I think I was too young for them.  Just recently, I came across Thomas’s poem, ‘Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night’, which I’m sure everybody else knows.  I need no expert here.  The howl of impotent fury against the inevitable is palpable.  Oh, if only I could write anger like that.

Your bad blogger is trying to get into gear again.   When was my last post, Dear Reader?  5 January.  5 January?  Some bloggers are at it every day… posting, that is.  I’d like to share with you some more ‘History About to Be Lost’.

Everybody is aware that life in the Lancashire cotton mills was tough during the mid-nineteenth century, when Charles Dickens was writing ‘Hard Times’ and Elizabeth Gaskell ‘North and South’.  Maybe you ‘did’ the Industrial Revolution at school, but I try to find the little things that won’t appear in the history books, the sorts of details you would definitely need if you were writing a historical novel.   Last week I was talking to my friend a week or so ago about life in Lancashire immediately after World War 2.

manchester-cotton-mill-in-1820_300A mother of three daughters – aged eight, five and eighteen months – loses her husband in the late 1940s.   She lived in a terraced house, on a street of terraced houses, cheek by jowl with her neighbours – this is important.   With a widow’s pension of only 15 shillings per week, she had no alternative but to go out to work at the local mill; this involves leaving the house at 7am and returning early evening.  In the mornings, a neighbour helped the daughters get up and make breakfast, then the girls walked to school together, dropping the youngest off at the childminder’s on their way.  At going-home time, they let themselves into their house and looked after themselves until their mother returns.  No harm came to them, because the neighbours always kept a watchful eye on them.   My friend refers to her neighbours as ‘aunties’, but they were more than that to her and her family.

Occasionally, the mill put the mother on short-time working, reducing her tight income further.  The neighbours got together to make large hot pots, some families contributing the meat, some the vegetables, some even less.  They all ate together.

There are no working cotton mills in Lancashire now.  If you want to see what one was like, visit National Trust Quarry Bank.  We did last autumn – it was fascinating, especially the deafening mechanical looms – but, when I suggested that my friend might like to go when she next visited Lancashire, she shuddered.    Maybe you have some memories of the Lancashire cotton mills, or factories elsewhere?  Dear Reader and I would love to hear from you.

You may not hear from me again for a while.  I’m going to the Association of Christian Writers Retreat over the weekend, then I’m off to India for a fortnight.  I may however use the time I’m sitting in the aeroplane to write up some book reviews for Dear Reader blog.

saxophone-29816To follow on from my last post, another useful skill I’ve had to learn is what I loosely call ‘committee clerking’.  I’ve worked (as in paid work) as a committee clerk in several organisations, including the British Medical Association (eons ago) and in local government, at various different levels.   At the current time, I’m (voluntary) secretary to my church’s PCC.  Btw, the committee clerk is the person who prepares the agenda and writes the minutes.  In the old pre-computer days (BMA/local government), committee clerks could be boys or girls and definitely did not type.   (One of my bosses used to get very upperty when councillors assumed that every typing error was hers.  She also refused to pour out the tea… another story!)  These are the skills I have picked up:

  • To jolly people along to produce what you want them to produce at the right time.
  • To edit what self-same people do produce without upsetting them.
  • To guide people actually to make a decision.
  • To know when something is illegal or unethical or against internal rules and to tell your members so.
  • To keep listening so as to be able to record decisions, and not to be touchy when somebody challenges what I’ve written.

I’m sure the same skills are required in many other occupations but this is how I came about them.  They have also been useful to me in writing and in my role as Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers.  This provides a lead-in for the imminent launch of the next ACW competition, this time for crime fiction.  More details – shortly – on the ACW website (but don’t look yet).

I’ve managed – at last – to review another book on my companion blog, Dear ReaderThe Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith.  Do take a look.  T

 

Yes, here, on Alfie Dog Fiction.  Mine’s the story called Burnt Down.   (You need to scroll down the page to get to it.)  At 0.39p, it’s a steal.

You can’t know how uncomfortable I feel about promoting my own work.  I’m of the generation for whom ‘showing off’ was the worst of all possible sins and who would go to enormous lengths to avoid any form of self-aggrandisement.  If you got a good mark at school, you didn’t dare tell anybody.

We writers can be very lazy, regarding ourselves as arty types, who just want to be left alone to do what we do best – write.  After all our work is so good it will fall off the shelves in Waterstones, won’t it?   In fact,  we won’t need to do anything except pick up the nice fat royalty cheque twice a year.  What a terrible effort that will be!   Come on,  publisher, you do all the publicity.  Publisher, publisher, where are you?  You want me to self-publish?  All right, I can hack  the idea of reformatting my work and uploading it to SmashWords or something, but surely you don’t expect me to go out and tell people about it.  I mean, what are Amazon doing, apart from collecting huge profits (ha ha)?  What, you want me to do book signings in my own town?  And go on Facebook?  And Twitter?  How embarrassing!  I mean, what will people think of little me (Rosemary)?

Fortunately, none of this is necessary for a short story on Alfie Dog Fiction, which is a great site for short stories generally.   Have you ever hoped not to win a competition because you couldn’t hack going public on your writing and your story?  (I have.)  Part of me regards my writing as so personal that I can’t bear to share it.  The other part wants it all just to ‘happen’.

Talking of competitions, the Association of Christian Writers are about to launch a crime-writing comp.   Check the ACW site in January.

Happy Christmas.  I am not at all prepared, but I will be.  The family start to arrive tomorrow.

To all those whose bloggers I follow, if you’re following me, thank you for all the interesting posts which WordPress sends to me every Monday.   (What a terrible sentence!)  Do keep checking my other blog, Dear Reader.   When I’ve finished this post, I’m going to review The Jazz Files by Fiona Veitch Smith.

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