Tying up the ends

I am just about three-quarters of the way through the first draft of my next book… I thought it was going to be called ‘The Last House’ or ‘The Last House’, but now I feel as if it might be something like ‘The Lost Child’… There are several strands of story-line in this novel, the flowers left on the grave of a Danish war hero, the man who seems so involved with a mysterious Lama who seems to have increasing power over him, a missing father, a missing fortune, and a woman who left her home and family and ended up married to a dangerous gangster… and who wants to escape his clutches.

Because there are these different strands, I don’t want them all to finish at the same time at the end of the book, so I am phasing in endings for each of these story-lines. The mystery of who leaves the flowers on the grave has been solved, the Lama is about to be exposed, and the escape of the woman from her dangerous husband is being planned. The father who has gone missing… well, his disappearance is being explained but I am working out which ending for this strand would be most satisfactory for the reader… I have several possible endings for this particular thread.

However, although I know how the Lama has the hold over his followers, I am not quite sure how to reveal it – should there be a showdown, and if so who should be involved? Should it be an explanation, with those involved left to sort out their lives away from the text, and left to the readers’ own thoughts? I am thinking that a confrontation, possibly with some comic aspects would be more interesting and more involving, and different from other episodes in the novel…

Because I am mulling this over and trying to figure it out my writing has slowed, and I’m not getting very many words down. Writers who plan their work before they even start telling their stories wouldn’t be in this slight pickle that I’m in. However, I can’t work like that; I can’t plan out the story lines with charts and spider-diagrams, and lines of different colours following the different characters and plot-lines. I don’t have a stack of filing cards all in order, or box files full of notes and research… Most of my plotting and planning goes on in my head, and comes out on paper; only when I have a lot of words can i start pushing and pulling the different parts to make them fit. I may have to go back and unpick stuff, I may have to hack great chunks and delete whole paragraphs and pages, but that is the way I work.

So… back to tying up the loose ends, and hoping nothing unravels while I’m doing it!

York city walls

I’d only visited York a couple of times before, and only spent a couple of hours there each time. So when I spent two and a half days there it was great to be able to explore it more. I knew York had castle walls but hadn’t realised how extensive they still are. In fact on a couple of occasions we walked back to our hotel along the walls as it was quicker than going through all the little streets… also we were less likely to get lost!

It may be a little confusing to some visitors that ‘gates’ in York are streets, and ‘bars’ are gates; there are four main bars, Bootham Bar, Monk Bar,  Walmgate Bar and Micklegate Bar, and two lesser bars, Fishergate Bar which was once much like the other main bars but badly damaged and almost destroyed in 1489, and Victoria Bar. There are towers too, the Bitchdaughter Tower, which may have been part of the old bailey, part of the motte and bailey castle thrown up by the Normans, Clifford’s Tower, the Multangular Tower, Fishgate Postern Tower, the Red Tower and Robin Hood’s Tower. No-one really knows the origin of the word ‘bitchdaughter’, although I read that it might mean a horrible nightmare. No-one seems to know why Robin Hood’s tower is so named; there was a Robin Hobbehod tried there in the 1200’s but the actual reason for its name, as far as I can find out is unknown!

Since the original walls, bars and towers were built they have been damaged, rebuilt, redesigned, added to, changed beyond what they originally were designed to look like. The Romans were the first to build around their settlement, Eboracum as they named it, and they were in this area from about AD70. It became their regional capital, a military town but with a civilian population too.

WALLS (4)

; after they left Britain in the fifth century, the city must have fallen into disrepair until the next wave of settlers, the Vikings arrived, and gave the place the name of Jorvik, which became York. After the Norman invasion, another military force moved in, to subjugate the local population. Henry III, son of the infamous Plantagent king, John, taxed the townsfolk in order to rebuild and maintain the walls. Today at least, the townsfolk benefit from them because of the flocks of tourists who visit to see the magnificent old stones.

WALLS (2)

 

A Swift thanks

Last weekend we were showing friends the lovely sights of Northern Ireland; we set off on our little tour from Belfast and stopped at Carrickfergus to look at the harbour and the historic castle. The day was perfect, blue skies, no wind and we wandered around reading all the information boards and notices explaining the history of the town. Before driving on along the beautiful coastal route, we stopped for a coffee at  a bar, restaurant and café called the Swift looking out across the harbour. You can see from my featured image what a lovely view it was.

Coffee consumed we set off again, stopping every so often to admire the lovely views and catching glimpses of Scotland across the sea. We had lunch in a lovely pub at Carnlough before proceeding on to Torr Head, Fair Head and Dark Hedges. After a great day in great company we went back to our friends’ hotel… only to discover that somehow I had lost my bag and purse… Good grief!! driving license, credit cards, travel cards, entrance cards… and all the other usual stuff.

I guessed I had left it under the table when we sat outside at Carrickfergus enjoying our coffee. I rang the Swift and Michael who answered hurried round the staff asking if anyone had seen or found my bag… sadly no… I left my number and sat having a consolation glass of wine… when the phone rang. It was Michael from the Swift… My bag was found!

We rushed back to Carrickfergus and I was joyfully reunited with my lost property. Thank you so much to the waitress who found it and put it away safely and to Michael for ringing me back so promptly!

P1030184Looking across at the Swift

When I grow up…

There was an article in the paper last week about what local people who had achieved some elevated position in their field had wanted to be when they grew up; it came from a campaign by the NSPCC which aims to free children from abuse so they can dream of a brighter future. There was a survey of what people had wanted to be when they grew up:

  1. doctor/nurse/health carer
  2. footballer
  3. teacher
  4. writer/journalist
  5. police officer
  6. train driver
  7. actor
  8. zoo keeper
  9. pop star
  10. astronaut

In our local paper a variety of people were interviewed and asked what they had hoped to be:

  • a football club manager had always wanted to be a professional footballer – his dream came true!
  • the college principal wanted to be a steam engine driver and a wrestler
  • the deputy leader of the council wanted to be a pilot, and has followed a career in aviation
  • the managing director of a cider farm grew up on a farm and always wanted to be a farmer, and now is a farmer and cider maker
  • the local member of parliament wanted to be a vet
  • another MP wanted to be a pilot, and then in the navy
  • the owner of the Grand Pier wanted to be a lawyer and she achieved it
  • the town centre manager wanted to be a policeman, and went in as a management trainee, before moving into other management rôles

One of my ambitions was to swim the Channel and I did go on to do some very long competitive swims, but only in a swimming pool or the river; I also wanted to climb Mount Everest, inspired I think by one of my earliest news memories, the conquest of Everest by Tensing and Hillary… I was given a book about it with stunning photos of the struggle to the summit… however, I soon out grew that ambition!

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to be a writer, it’s what I have always wanted to do. As I came to the age to leave school, and with not much help in terms of career guidance, and seeing that it was so difficult to get into journalism, I decided I wanted to join the police. However, it was suggested to me that I would be better going in as a graduate entrant and that I should do a degree first. I tried to get into journalism college, but failed so went to do a degree.

By the time I had finished my degree I had moved on from that idea, discouraged by the fact that in those days police women were not treated equally to male officers. I left the Polytechnic, not sure what I wanted to do; once again career guidance was virtually non-existent. I applied for several jobs on newspapers, at the BBC, as an abstractor for various companies… and in the end went into the Civil Service. I lasted there for about nine months then the office job I had, drove me almost to distraction and i left to work at Manchester Airport on the information desk. I loved working there, really loved it; but the job I had would never progress to anything different – and it wasn’t so much as increasing salary, or looking for promotion, as being in a job where there would be the opportunity to change and do different things…

… and so I returned to college and against all my former ambitions, I became a teacher. English was my subject, and I taught it as a second language, and then to young people educated out of the normal school system. I did enjoy my teaching, but was not as passionate about it as others because in my heart I still wanted to be a writer.

All through my working life I have written, but it is only now that I am free that I have at last done what I wanted to do when I was grown up, become a writer!

If you want to read what I have published on Kindle follow this link:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_9?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+elsd%2Caps%2C354

If you are interested in the NSPCC campaign ‘childhood should be a time we’re free to dream’, here is a link:

http://www.nspcc.org.uk/what-you-can-do/make-a-donation/?source=ppc-brand&utm_source=google&utm_medium=cpc&utm_campaign=UK_GO_S_E_BND_Paid_Pure_NSPCC&utm_term=nspcc&gclid=CJGgnenHnMgCFeUstAodVvoOQQ&gclsrc=ds

My first car

I was thinking today about cars; as a family we didn’t have a car until I was about seven or eight years old – we lived in Cambridge and everyone had bikes so being without a car was not such a big deal then. The bus service was good so any longer journeys were easy to make too… or should I say easier to make, because the buses didn’t run very late at night, and you always had to be aware of when the last bus home was. As a child this didn’t bother me, obviously!

Our first family car was a little dark green Austin A35; it was very basic even by the standards of today’s basic models. There was no heater which not only meant the car was very cold in winter, but there was no heat on the screen to clear it of condensation or ice. The windscreen wipers did not return to a rest position but just stayed wherever they were across the windscreen, and to dip the headlights there was a button on the floor you had to dab with your left foot. There was no automatic gear box so every gear change needed a ‘double-declutch’, which  I think, meant you had to depress the clutch and move the gear stick into neutral, then depress it again to move it into the next gear. The indicator was a switch on the dashboard which looked rather like a poached egg; our car did at least have indicator lights, not a little indicator ‘flag’ which stuck out the side of the car when it was switched on. There were no seat belts, and no other safety features; it was only a two door, so the front seats had to be moved each time for us children to climb in and out.

Our next family car was a Wolsely, but my own first car was another little A35, a pale blue one this time. It was a great little car, which bombed along, and I travelled miles and miles in it. I was living in Manchester and my family were in Somerset; there were not many motorways then so my little Austin got to know the roads between very well. I think mine was a little more modern than our family one and had heating, and I think it may only have been first gear which needed the tricky double de-clutching.

I occasionally see A35s on the roads, vintage cars now and usually well-loved and well cared for, all clean and bright and shiny. Every time I see one I have such fond memories of the two A35s in my life!

 

Revisiting Lough Neagh

Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland is the largest freshwater lake in the UK and Ireland; it’s name comes from the Irish  Loch nEachach, the Lake of Eachaidh, or Eochu’s Lough; it is supposed to mean the lake of the horseman or horse god.

Lough Neagh, containing 800 billion gallons of water, is massive; it is nearly 9 ½ miles wide, 15 ½ miles long and with a surface area of almost 150 square miles. However it is not very deep; on average it’s about 30 foot deep, apart from one area which is over a hundred foot in depth. It’s fed by six rivers, the Maine, Six Mile Water, the Upper Bann, Blackwater, the Ballinderry, and the Moyola; however, only one river leaves it, the Lower Bann which carries the waters to the Atlantic Ocean.

As with most geographical features there are legends about how it was created; apparently, the giant  Finn McCool was  in pursuit of the Scottish giant, Benandonar, and grabbed a handful of earth and threw it after him. The giant handful of earth and rocks fell into the Irish Sea and became the Isle of Man; the hole left behind filled with water and became Lough Neagh. In actual fact, the more boring truth is that millions upon millions of years ago, volcanic activity caused the formation of the huge lough.

People have lived in the island of Ireland since  Mesolithic times, and there is evidence that people settled by the lake ten thousand years ago; it would have given them everything they needed, food, and shelter in its wooded shores. There are several islands in the lough including  Rams Island and Coney Island on which some of the oldest evidence of human settlement has been found.

We first visited twenty years ago when we first came to Ireland for a family holiday; we’ve picnicked there, walked there, and just sat and watched the birds and the water. We were there again last week, stopping for breakfast on our way to Belfast. We sat in the café and enjoyed an ‘Ulster fry’ and watching the ducks and a swan gobble up the bread the waitress was giving them. A party of Japanese tourists got off a coach and had great fun feeding the gulls and other birds and taking pictures of each other.

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