Commoners in the Royal Family

Pink dahlias
Pink dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Whilst watching the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markel last June, I became very irritated by sentimental comments about ‘breaths of fresh air’ and inferences that Meghan Markel was the first commoner to marry into our (British)  Royal Family.  How could they be so wrong and so ignorant?

Of course, the Duchess of Cambridge (formerly Kate Middleton) has no blue blood, but, then, she is discreet, restrained and sensible, so not of interest to tabloid newspapers.   But – for millennia – the Royal Family has attracted hangers on, social climbers and those with the eye to the main chance.   The Boleyns and the Woodvilles come to mind.   Also Wallis Simpson.

Elizabeth Woodville is generally regarded as being pushy and a bit of a slapper, but, being a widow without any means to support herself or her sons, it seems she was just dogged.  Legend has it that she sat under an oak tree, where she knew King Edward IV would pass, and pleaded for the return of her lands, confiscated in the Wars of the Roses.  Later, when she became queen, she obtained a papal indulgence for those who said the Angelus three times a day – the sorts of thing that all slappers always do.

Red dahlias
Red dahlias in the Dahlia Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridge.

Anne Boleyn, on the other hand, came from a family on the make.  Her sister, Mary, was Henry VIII’s mistress for a short time and her father and brother were seeking out offices near the King.  In The Queen of Subtleties, by Susannah Dunn, we see Anne in super-bitch mode, a veritable Alexis Carrington, with an extra finger which she used, if necessary, to spook those who came across her.  He doesn’t understand what he’s up against.  When I’m good, I’m very good.  These are some of the remarks which Dunn has Anne say.  The author has all characters used modern parlance and modern idioms, so, as you can imagine, the dialogue is very punchy, and does not detract from the historical period.  She has drawn Anne Boleyn to perfection, an anti-heroine, breathlessly funny and clever, and her story is un-put-down-able..  (I haven’t finished Queen of Subtleties yet.)

Queen of Subtleties has two narrators, Anne Boleyn, and King Henry’s confectioner, Lucy Cornwallis, who is sweet and well-meaning.  Guess whose story carries me along?  As I’ve commented before, we are attracted to evil – aren’t we?

Yesterday, we went to Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, which has nothing to do with any of the above, but the dahlias were amazing – hence the photos.

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Publishing? Don’t Shake the Boat

Time for the Insecure Writers’ Support Group.  This month’s optional question has mined my writerly insecurity.  The question is: What publishing path are you considering/did you take, and why?

  • Well, Dear Reader, as you know, apart from a few short stories, my breathtaking contributions to the world of literature are as yet unclaimed by publishers.  To be brutally frank, The Novel, which I would like to see in print or even in electronic form, is still unfinished.  I am getting through the editing slowly, but the word publishing brings me out into a cold sweat.  I will, however, try to answer.
  • When editing is done, I will ask people to read it.  One dear friend has already volunteered.  Anyone reading this who would like to read a bordering on historical novel based in the 1980s, featuring the Polish trade union Solidarity, is very welcome to contact me.  As I’m female and no spring chicken, I would particularly welcome younger readers and male readers.
  • After that, I will send the result of my endeavours to a professional editor.  Yes, I know, these cost, but I’m assured that it’s worth it.
  • I will attempt to persuade an established author to endorse my big work (having read it first, obviously).
  • I will try the traditional publishing route, having first obtained advice from my writer friends as to which ones are likely to work for me.
  • If I get no biters, I will try self-publishing, but the promotion work necessary for self-publishing terrifies me.

This evening, when I relax with Ian McEwan’s The Children Act, I shall attempt not to fall in despair.  McEwan writes so well, sets scenes and describe people’s actions so brilliantly.  My prose, my characters and my settings are nothing in comparison.

How Seriously Do You Really Take Your Research?

Pen on a page.
Attrib Flickr

Writing fiction, as we all know, involves an enormous amount of research.  You pick your setting, your place, your characters’ occupations and some events around which your story will be based. You research them.  Then you find, as you start writing, that you don’t know this and you don’t know that, so you have to keep breaking off from writing to research the bits and pieces you hadn’t anticipated, but it’s annoying to have to keep doing it and you need to know so much detail.

Unfortunately, there are three areas where writers are most likely to succumb to the temptation to… er… gloss over.

The church and anything to do with religion.  Many writers are unclear as to the differences between Roman Catholic and Protestant customs, the services held in each church, how priests are addressed, and the language used.  Catholic congregations hear Mass and the priest says or celebrates Mass.  An Anglican priest, in modern times, is always addressed by his or her first name by his congregation.   In the Victorian era, he would be called a parson and be called Mr [Surname]; in Elizabethan times, he would be styled Sir [First Name Second Name]..  Evangelicals describe themselves as Christians – not as evangelicals or evis, definitely not as happy-clappies (a very derogatory term).  I could go on!

The characters in the television programme, The Vicar of Dibley , bear no resemblance to any church I’ve ever attended.  The American author, Brenda Bevan Remmes, however, writes knowledgeably and with insight about Quakers.  Sometimes, I think the writer’s ignorance is willful.  A gentle, liberal church, it is thought, does not make for an exciting story – although Brenda Bevan Remmes manages it very well in  The Quaker Cafe and Home to Cedar Ranch.  So does Fiona Lloyd in The Diary of a (Trying to be Holy) Mum.

Local government – Local authorities have not had Town Clerks since the 1974 Local Government Act – not a lot of writers know that.

Babies and children – A very advanced toddler will start saying a few recognisable words by about 18 months, but most start much later, and even then a lot of their speech will be baby babble.  Children start to put words together at about two and a half, and form sentences and use tenses after three years old.  Again, not a lot of writers know this either.

In short, writers should write about what they know, or what they have researched properly.  And, as for sloppy historical research, well, there’s more than enough there for another post.  I am currently reading Dissolution by C J Sansom, which, like Hilary Mantel’s books, touches upon Thomas Cromwell, and which has greater impact for being very well researched.

A quick reminder about the Association of Christian Writers  Journalism Competition.  The deadline is approaching fast – Friday, 31 August.  The winner’s article will appear in Christian Writer magazine, which has a readership of over 700,  and, if you don’t win, you have a piece you can pitch somewhere else.  More information on the ACW website.

Pitfalls For New Writers

First Wednesday of the month and it’s Insecure Writer’s Support Group day again.  iwsg300

I had an article published in the (British) Association of Christian Writers’ magazine, Christian Writer, this month.    Really bucked to see it there, even though I was writing about rejection.  I have submitted shedloads of stories and articles over the years (although not so much recently) so I am an expert on the subject of my article.  Writers should write about what they know, shouldn’t they?

This month, our optional topic is What pitfalls would you warn other writers to avoid on their publication journey?  These are mine:

  • Don’t be discouraged by rejection.  In fact, be gobsmacked every time you place a piece.  It’s a nasty (writing) world out there.  Most editors and publishers are deluged with submissions.  They don’t need we writers; we need them.
  • On the other hand, don’t assume that x number of rejections = an acceptance.  It doesn’t.  Some writers will place their first or second pieces, whereas others will never do so.  Get informed feedback on what you have written already, from online writing sites or face-to-face writing groups (not friends and relatives afraid to offend you).   Also dig deep in yourself, asking yourself how you could develop and improve your writing.
  • Don’t feel obliged to act upon every bit feedback you receive.  When obtaining feedback from writing sites or writing groups, you will receive both good advice, and also advice from people who don’t know any better than you and those with bees in their bonnets.  Work out whose advice is good and whose is not.  Clue: who has work published and who doesn’t?
  • Reading is important.  Don’t neglect your reading in order to make time to write.  Make careful choices in your reading.  Read around your own genre.
  • Your childhood and adolescence is only (broadly) interesting to you.  Don’t include too much of it in your writing.
  • Expect no favours, from anyone.  If you do have friends/contacts in publishing, don’t embarrass them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t overly invest in one piece.  Write as much stuff as you can.

 

 

 

You will have worked out by now that I’m useless at promoting anything.  I was of the generation to whom ‘showing off’ was the worst thing anyone could do, but… deep breath… I’m the Competitions Manager for the Association of Christian Writers (ACW), so I ought to be able to do this.

ACW Journalism Competition graphic
(c) Wendy H Jones

Anyone fancy trying their hand at a bit of journalism?  The ACW Journalism Competition provides a great opportunity to get writing about the issues you care about, and have your piece read by a real journalist.  Our judge is Sheila Johnson (JournoJohnson), an experienced journalist.  Christian slant optional.  For more information, visit  http://www.christianwriters.org.uk/competitions  You would send your entry to ME at competitions@christianwriters.org.uk .  Do give it a go.

What I do know,  from being ACW Competitions Manager for three years, is that entering competitions is a great way to get your work out there and read by professionals.  An optional critique is also available to ACW Journalism Competition entrants (for an additional £7 fee).  Competition managers want to hear from you.  They are not going to give you the ‘not right for us’ brush off.

If ever  (my Dear Reader is telling me to try saying ‘When’) I have a book to promote, it won’t come naturally, but I shall read my friend, Wendy H Jones’s, book Power Packed Book Marketing.  (She is also the author of the DI Shona McKenzie crime series.)  I’ll let you into a secret.  Wendy created the graphic you see above and wrote the Facebook/Twitter posts for this comp.   Thank you very much, Wendy.

Ultimate Writing Goals

Time for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group again.  We are a day early this month because some country across the pond is celebrating their independence from us on Wednesday, which is our usual day.

This month we’re asked  What are our ultimate writing goals, and how have they changed over time (if at all)?

Football (soccer) goal
Let’s hope England get a few in the net today, against Colombia.

Having a novel published has been my ultimate writing goal since I was a child, actually a quite small child reading Enid Blyton, and it hasn’t changed at all.  Have I achieved it?  No.  Am I getting close to it?  Well, that’s the scary thing.  I’m coming close to finishing my first edit of my novel and I suppose that’s one step along the way.  Ahead – long before my book goes on the table at Association of Christian Writers events – I have to persuade a publisher to take it on, or self-publish it, and… deep breath… publicise and market it.  Very scary!

If you’re wondering what the IWSG is and why I keep referring to it, it’s a blog hop for writers.  We post on the first Wednesday every month our own blog. We talk about our doubts and the fears we have conquered. We discuss our struggles and triumphs, offer a word of encouragement for others who are struggling. We also visit others in the group and connect with our fellow writers, aiming for a dozen new people each time – and return comments.

Football (soccer) goal
As it’s the World Cup, here’s a goal.

Wider Still and Wider [Cars]… in Land of Hope and Glory

Why are cars getting wider and wider in the UK, especially on narrow roads with passing places?

Path and river
This is a footpath in my village, close to the road in question, which is too narrow for taking photos, safely.

Driving my little Ford Fiesta up a hill in a narrow lane this afternoon, I encountered, first, a Range Rover whose driver squeezed past me with a pained expression on her face, and, immediately behind that, an even wider SUV.  At first its driver refused to move at all, looking ahead with a bored expression while I attempted to maneouvre further to the side – into the hedge, actually, my wheel sinking into a pothole.  Eventually, probably cursing my incompetence, he reversed up the hill into a layby.  Well, Dear Reader, being a polite person, I raised my hand to thank him, then continued on my way… for about two hundred yards, before realising I had the mother of all punctures on my front wheel…on a tyre I purchased only five months ago.  Rude words indeed.

Leaving aside damage to the environment, there are many good reasons for not driving massive crates on wheels, not least (or rather the greatest) being the price of Diesel (which they mostly run on).   And, having bought the heap, why do they have to use it on rural roads leading to villages they likely have no reason to visit?  To travel around rural British roads, you need a small vehicle, confidence – as your reverse gears whine in protest – that there will be a passing place somewheerrre… sooooon… and good manners.

Kettlewell, Yorkshire
Kettlewell, Yorkshire

Roads are also narrow, with passing places, in Wharfedale, Yorkshire, where I was last weekend,  attending the Association of Christian Writers‘ annual Writing Weekend at Scargill House.  On our way we had to wait ten minutes for a herd of sheep to cross the road.   As always, our speakers were the amazing Adrian and Bridget Plass. It was great immerse myself in writing for forty-eight hours and to be alongside so many other wonderful writers, some published and well-known, and some not (like me).  One day, I WILL have my novel on the table at the back of the seminar room, with the others.  I came away feeling very enthused, wanting to write this and to try that… only to be engulfed, immediately, by work and ordinary life on my return.  Sad!

 

British Values

Cup of teaWhat better day to be writing about British Values than the day England beat Panama 6-1 in the World Cup?  That Harry Kane is the only player that seems to be able to score is another matter!  Also, next, we’re playing Belgium, the favourites.  Ho-hum.

Over the past year or two, British Values has been foisted upon the school and college curriculum.  Along with Prevent, it’s one of our defence mechanisms against terrorism, but most teachers and college tutors hate them and not just because they take up valuable teaching time.   The problem is that the British, embarrassed about their colonial past, feel uncomfortable even about the word ‘British’.  We’re the UK now and Brits (a derogatory term used about us, incidentally, by the IRA) .  Except that we do love a royal occasion (a royal wedding, for instance), our football team, Andy Murray at Wimbledon and singing Land of Hope and Glory and Rule Britannia at the Last Night of the Proms.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Enid Blyton’s Famous Five understood British values (with a small v) very well:  being ‘jolly decent’, not being a ‘cry baby’, fairness, not telling fibs and… well, not talking about any of these things very much.  Things have moved on a lot since those days.  Like it or not, we’re part of a diverse and global society.

So what brought this on?  Today, I had to read and invigilate for students with literacy problems who were taking Gateway British Values exams.  I have to admit that, beforehand, I was very sniffy about it, but – you know what – when I read the questions I changed my mind.  Young people need to know, for instance, that at a General Election we elect Members of Parliament, not local councillors.  When I do my poll clerk duty, too many people come into our polling station not really knowing what’s going on and many more, I’m sure, stay away.  They need to be reassured that MPs are elected, that they don’t pay to get into Parliament and they’re not appointed.   How did I assimilate these things?  My born-in-Britain parents explained them to me.  A lot of kids in this country won’t have this privilege.

So what are the real, modern British values?  It’s really difficult to say because there are a lot of us Brits, living in different regions, from different cultures, in different income brackets and doing different things, but I’ll make a stab at it.

  • Sill, we’re reserved.  We cultivate hugging and kissing each other, but most of us secretly hate doing it, and  we don’t meet people’s eye when we walk along the street.
  • We queue.   Don’t you dare push in!  You will told to go to the back in no uncertain terms.  If, somehow or other, you get to the front before you should have in error, you wave ahead the people who should have been attended to first.
  • We don’t value education.  (We can’t be bothered to put in the effort.)
  • We’re lazy about learning foreign languages.
  • British people speak in many diverse regional accents.
  • We resent people who are successful.
  • We behave badly when abroad.  (But not as badly as some nationalities.)
  • We drink tea with milk.
  • We feel we’re entitled to a certain standard of living.  When we don’t get it (for instance, if there’s a power cut or we can’t get a phone signal), we whinge.
  • We don’t value religion.  (But many people who profess not to believe in God swear ‘Oh my God’ or say things like ‘I hope and pray that…’)
  • We don’t look out for each other as we should.  We don’t like to interfere, or get involved.
  • We’re embarrassed about being British.  We don’t like to say anything good about ourselves.

Book Titles or Character Names – Which is Harder to Come Up With?

Insecure Writers Support Group day!   I have had a piece of work accepted, in the Association of Christian Writers’ Christmas Anthology – hurray.  I should say that louder (write it louder?), even though I have had little opportunity to write since my last IWSG post.  Same old four-letter word – w-o-r-k.  It’s high season in the education-world, with exam invigilation and sampling learners’ assignments for an awarding body.

So, on to the optional question:  What’s harder for you to come up with, book titles or character names?  I’m better at finding character names; I enjoy devising exactly the right name for the right character, even though I sometimes change them.  When I say right, I mean appropriate for when he/she was born, where he/she was living and in which social class.   It annoys me when writers don’t do this, giving young characters old fashioned names or older characters names which weren’t in usage at the time they came into the world.  I sometimes change characters’ names as they and their circumstances develop, or because, as in my current novel – which I can’t get round to finishing off – too many of them begin with one letter, in this case M.

Titles, I’m no good at.  My WIP has the working title ‘And the Wall Came Tumbling Down’ and I think of it as the ‘Wall’, but this moniker is no longer appropriate for the story.  I will have to think of something else.  I once wrote a short story entitled (published in Circa, btw) which originally rejoiced under the heading ‘Anna The Dissident Appears on Television’, but the television bit didn’t work.  I tried very hard to make it work, because I liked the wacky title, but it had to be just ‘Anna The Dissident’.  A writer cannot be imprisoned by a title, however catchy and clever.

Nothing to See Here

I’ve not been around these last few weeks, in body, or mind or spirit.  I was on holiday in Romania at the beginning of the month, then babysitting, and, all the time, fitting in the four-letter word – work.  I have been working flat out since I returned from Eastern Europe, teaching, invigilating and verifying (checking the work of other teachers, to make sure they’ve got it right).  Two of my jobs are at their peak periods, and I have been glued to my computer for whole days, with concomitant RSI headaches.

I haven’t had time to think, let alone write.  Work and other commitments can push out everything else out of your mind.  I have a few ideas for stories in my mind, but no time to get them down.  I did create a mood board for a story at one point.  Is this the way forward for me who doesn’t plan, and finds planning daunting, to the point of stifling, snuffing out, creative ideas?

So, I have little to say, just a few observations of everyday life in twenty-first century Britain, which I would be very grateful to know about, if I were a writer writing about twenty-first century Britain a hundred years hence:

  • In households where children have (at some point in their lives) attended a fee-paying school, long whole school photos are displayed in the downstairs loo.
  • When a husband and wife travel together in their car, he drives and she sits in front seat beside him as a passenger – mostly.
  • When the husband and wife have guests, the husband drives but the husband of the visiting couple sits in the front passenger seat, and the two wives sit in the back seat.
  • When people at work make coffee and tea in their offices or staff rooms, the tea making table is always disgustingly dirty:  unwashed cups, used repeatedly, often stained brown, smeared on the outside rim;  coffee and tea rings, some wet, some dry and of longstanding, on the grubby tray;  one (if you’re lucky, two) teaspoons, with little pools of tea of coffee/tea in the bowl.  The office fridge is similarly filthy containing: yoghurts many months old with bulging, swollen lids; plastic cartons of milk so it’s deliquesced into grey watery fluid; grains of dried-up spilt milk at the bottom.

Also, have you noticed how we’re all saying ‘Nothing to see here’ nowadays?

Yesterday was Dracula Day, apparently, so the pictures above are of Bran Castle (supposedly Dracula’s castle).  Was it frightening?  Not very, more National Trust than scary.