Review of ‘Drawing the Line’ by Judith Cutler

Available from Allison and Busby.

‘Drawing the Line’ is the first of a series of six books about Lina Townend, wild foster child turned restorer of antiques, living and working with the kindly, grandfatherly Griff (resting actor turned antique dealer).  Yes, Dear Reader, crime fiction again.   Lina, although very happy with Griff, still feels the need to find her own family.  Chancing, at an antiques fair, upon the front piece of a rare book, Naturum Rerum, which she remembers from childhood, she uses it to seek out the place where she read it and, she hopes, her natural father, but, because the book is so valuable, she sets in train a series of burglaries and violent assaults.   The storyline is involved and at times unclear, with some important points glossed over in a few sentences, such as the identity of the stallholder referred to as ‘the man from Devon’, and occasionally stretching the limits of probability too far, with Robin the curate appearing in his car every time Lina needs him to be there.  However, I didn’t mind any of this because the characters are all likeable, believable and well-defined and the story has pace and a real ‘feel good’ factor.   People ‘change sides’ throughout, tempted by the proceeds of crime or, in one character’s case, by ‘being a prat’.  Lina doesn’t know who to trust – except Griff – and we readers are challenged, asked to change our minds about characters all the time.  Lina herself makes one serious mistake about one baddy who turns out to be a goody.  Only one person, Lina remarked, really was who and what he said he was.

The great thing about Lina is that, although she has a huge chip on her shoulder through being in care and is antique-440337_640hardened and cynical, with an occasional tendency to lapse into a female Kevin,  she is emotionally tough and resourceful.  Lina will not let you down.  Unusually for a character in fiction, she is sensible and well-organised.  The story is written in the first person, from Lina’s point of view and in her distinctive voice.  Judith’s knowledge of antiques and the antique business is thorough, with warm stories of camaraderie between dealers, their ways of working and their etiquettes.

‘Drawing the Line’ does not fit as a title for this book – what line, where, how?  However, I would thoroughly recommend it and am ready to read the other five books about Lina Townend.  However, I now have the delightful duty of reading several books written by friends, starting with ‘Destiny’s Rebel’ by Philip S Davies and to be followed by ‘Mortal Fire’ by C F Dunn.  As well as reading, this week, I’ve cleared out the filing cabinet containing all our family paperwork, something which hadn’t been done for at least twenty years.  Dear Reader, it has taken me three whole days,  and left me feeling more physically worked out than if I’d taken proper exercise, you know, the sort you pay for at the gym.  I’ve also managed to pull a muscle/ trap a nerve at the top of my thigh (to put it politely).  At the moment, I’m applying Deep Heat and a microwaveable wheat cushion;  I really don’t feel I could ask a physiotherapist to massage my buttock.  I’m sure sitting on a comfy chair with my laptop and writing will sort it out.

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A Good Week (for a Writer)

For this post, I wanted to write one of those boring, mundane titles – like ‘QI (Quite Interesting)’ and ‘Not the Nine O’Clock News’ – which draw me in straightaway, but not other people.  Nothing Much Happened was what I had in mind because for writers, this is always a good thing.  If too much is going on in real life life, you can’t write, something I know that better than anyone.  The title above is still pretty boring – admit it – but don’t you feel compelled to read on, to think that something must lie behind it?

With nothing going on in my retired life, I managed to rewrite a story that I had first written for a course led by Sally Quilter in 2013.  Yes, Dear Reader, it took me a whole week, to work myself back into that story, to get my head into the characters again, at the same time taking on board comments made by Sally and other course colleagues, some two years ago.  I know that some writers can write a short story from start to finish in one sitting, make a pretty good fist of it, revise a few bits and sub it, but not me.   As I said, it took me a whole week, struggling with things, for example, like how to write, in a dramatic way, that a character fell over a cobblestone… until suddenly it all took off and then, not only was I ravenous to continue, but bloody determined to finish.   I couldn’t bear the thought of getting back into it all again.   Suddenly, I felt like a proper writer again.

This afternoon I posted the story in the Fiction thread of the Chapter SeventyNine writing community, for comment,  please, from any blog followers who are Ch79 members.  I have to confess that I haven’t been on Ch79 much over the last year or two, but I’ve already received useful reviews from two members.   I felt like I’d gone home.

I’ve also been in contact, through Facebook, with my published author Ian Ayris, whom I knew from my Writers Dock days (another writers’ support community).   The author of Abide With Me and a specialist in urban, gritty fiction, Ian is in the process of setting up a useful editorial agency (but it isn’t live yet).

I also ‘attended’ a webinar led by Anne Rainbow.  Using her Red Pen Editing Cycle, Anne has helped me and a lot of people improve their writing, both through Chapter SeventyNine and on the  defunct More Writing site.  Anne is now running a series of webinars and newsletters, introducing the Red Pen method as a whole – more information is on Patsy Collins’ website Words About Writing and Writing About Words.  The funny thing is that all that time I’d been teaching IT, I’d never taken part in a webinar.  Ho-hum.

I also read on the blog Sally Jenkins  some guidance on how to write a book review.  Sally was reporting on a talk given by book reviewer, Kim Nash, who says, amongst other things that, if you can’t write a nice review, don’t write a review at all.  I agree with that.

So that’s it, really.  A good week.  May all weeks be as productive and uneventful as this one.  As I don’t think I’ll be able to find an image which reflects the content of this post, here’s a photo of the aster, which is flowering in my garden at the moment.

aster2

 

ACW (Association of Christian Writers) Writers Day

I had an amazing day last Saturday (10 OctoberSt Peter's Church, Eaton Square 2015) at the ACW Writers Day, at St Peter’s Church, Eaton Square.  The speaker at this event, which was attended by upwards of 50 Christian writers,  was Bob Hartman, the American storyteller and writer of many children’s books, many of them Bible stories.  Bob rocked, literally.  His ice-breaker was to get all the grown-up writers to stand up and do the actions for a pre-schoolers’ story.  I’m not usually the one for that sort of thing, but Bob’s bubbling enthusiasm was infectious, even to wooden old me.  Later on he talked about finding the wow factor, and he hit his, bang in the middle, all day, throughout three hour-long sessions.

The event was billed as being for writers for children and young adults but, as I expected, much of what Bob had to say was relevant to all of us: the importance of character, setting and conflict; not including too much detail of setting when a book is to be illustrated (as most books for small children are);   the need to define and understand a problems and conflicts.  In too many stories, the writer hasn’t got a handle on what the real problem is.  The story of Jonah is a good example, because the problem isn’t the whale.  Instead, said Bob, think of the gourd tree at the end.  We talked a lot about how to write up Bible stories as stories, the importance of reading said Bible story first – pretty obvious, isn’t it? – and how to find out about your Biblical character out of just a few verses.  It was amazing how much was already there, ready to be picked out, and I suspect that, if we think for a moment about our own characters, we’ll be astounded about how much we know about them too.

Tea cupsI have recently become ACW competitions secretary.   My job for the day was to help with the teas and coffees – an excellent task for a newbie, enabling me to meet, and to put faces to, my fellow committee members, with whom I had been exchanging emails for several months, and to talk to many other writers.  Everybody was very supportive of each other and interested in their writing.  I came away wanting to do more writing… now.

For more information about the Association of Christian Writers, do take a look at the ACW Website and the ACW blog, and, if you know someone who is already a member, at the (print) Christian Writer magazine.  Membership costs just £28 by cheque or bank transfer or £25 for payments by annual Direct Debit.  As well as the writers’ days, benefits include fellowship and support, useful advice and information – and, of course, competitions.   My first competition as comps secretary will be trailed in the next edition of Christian Writer.  Watch this space.

I nearly didn’t get there because I struggled to locate the church building AND I missed my train home.  As my beloved aunt in Canada said, I truly have no sense of direction, having been far too entrenched, for far too long, in my home-to-college rat-run and too used to making the excuse that I had no time to do anything else.  None of the five or six people I asked was able to give me any sensible directions, as I charged up and down Belgravia streets at ten to ten in the morning, trying to get to an event which started at ten o’clock.  Nobody else ‘knows their London’ either, it appears.  One of them asked me for the St Peter’s Church post code, though.

Anne of Green Gables Museum… again

Dear Reader, you may remember my post on the Anne of Green Gables Museum in August.  Since then I have written a piece The real 'Lake of Shining Waters'on the Museum for The Copperfield Review, which will appear in the autumn edition and, this weekend, the editor, Meredith Allard, has previewed it on her blog, together with some photos taken by my husband.

This morning, as I have a little time to myself, I have tried writing Morning Pages, using Word and tagging my Word document as I saved it.  It came out more like a journal entry, detailing what I was doing now and had been doing for the last few days, unfortunately, whereas I wanted it to be a place where I could set down thoughts and thoughts about settings and emotions which I could use in my writing later on.  I suppose these things will come with practice.  Does anyone know of any sites giving guidance on morning pages, please?  A cursory look on Google just brought up promotionals for journalling sites.

Why Don’t I Watch Downton Abbey?

Why don’t I like Downton Abbey?  I think I am in a minority of one on this.   This evening I cleaned the kitchen floor rather than watching it.  I definitely don’t hate it and there have been many Sunday evenings when I have sat in the room while my husband watches it, trying to do something else.  It’s quite harmless in its way.  Am I being snobby because it’s so middlebrow?  No!!!!  Everything I read is middlebrow.  I am middlebrow.  I listen to Classic FM, for Goodness sake.  Am I being snobby because it’s a soap?  (As my students would say, it so is.)  No!!!!  Years ago I used to watch Neighbours.

Downton Abbey should be all the things I should like – historical, English, gentle, with occasional bursts of humour.  Although I have read in the newspaper that there are a few inaccuracies, as to costume, household practices and use of language, generally I believe it to be an authentic representation of life at the beginning of the twentieth century.   It’s much better researched than anything coming out of Hollywood, for sure.

I have explored every corner of my soul, usually on a Sunday evening, but I cannot find a proper answer to my question.  I think a lot of it is that, on a Sunday evening, especially when I was contemplating returning to work on Monday morning (not now, thank Goodness), I can’t be bothered to get involved in a soap.  I want to relax.  Some people would say that watching a historical soap like Downton is relaxation, and, if I was the slightest bit engaged with Lady Mary or any of the other characters, or was able to tap into the plot, it would be relaxing for me too.  The trouble is that they do not interest me.   Fiction is supposed to be all about character but, for me, these characters are too wooden and too ordinary and I can more or less predict what is going to happen next, although, to be fair, they appear to be working for ten million viewers.  I don’t think Julian Fellowes – in the unlikely event of him reading this post – would be too bothered about my view.

The thing that annoys me most is not the show itself but its viewers, who take it all too seriously, spending hours discussing Lady Mary, Carson and all the others, as if they were real people.  Also I mentioned above that I’d read letters in a – broadsheet – newspaper discussing the historical authenticity of the costume and set… while there are refugees cold and starving in Turkey, Italy and Greece.  A few days ago, whilst walking through the servants quarters of Anglesey Abbey (a National Trust property), I heard over and over again – from grown ups – that it was just like Downton and this is where Carson or Mrs Patmore would sit.  Get a grip, everybody.  It’s not real.  Really, it’s not real.

So what’s the matter with me?  Why can’t one hopeful historical novelist join in all the Downton Abbey fun?

Downton Abbey Cast
Att Flickr