Thinking about characters… and not getting too fond of them!

Sometimes a character arrives unexpectedly, and then becomes almost part of a writer’s life. This happened to me with Thomas Radwinter; I’d wanted to write a bout a family of brothers, and had the surname Radwinter, and had three of ‘the boys’ (all men in their forties and fifties) when suddenly unexpectedly a younger brother, a much younger brother arrived… and he was Thomas.

As a reader I’ve followed many different series of books by different authors, and I really like seeing what happens next to the ‘people’ I’ve been reading about in one book, after that book finishes. However, it can be really disappointing if the character becomes indulged by the author, and authenticity drifts away. There is nothing worse than an author ‘falling in love’ with their character, and becoming indulgent and unrealistic… And I hope I don’t become indulgent with Thomas Radwinter; he has to change, as anyone might… at the beginning he is approaching his thirty-third birthday, now he is heading towards forty… at the beginning he had no children, now he has a whole bunch!

He’ll have a whole load of new challenges and adventures in my next novel – and I hope if i become too indulgent with him, too fond of him, then readers will tell me! here he is in his new office… he can’t work at home any more, it’s just too hectic!

I sat at my desk and twiddled a bit in my chair, clicked the mouse a couple of times, then another couple of times and smiled to myself. I have an office! I have an actual office!
It’s only very small, it’s what used to be the upstairs flat of the veg shop run by my friend Val, but now the small sitting room is where I might meet any clients, three easy chairs but uprightish (some of my clients are a bit elderly) a coffee table and then to one side a desk with a couple of chairs in case we might have to look at some papers. It is very plainly decorated, so it just looks nice and clean and light, and I think it looks quite professional – well, I am a professional! There are a few black and white photos on the wall by a young photographer I know, Niqqi (I’m sure she is really Nicky, but never mind) and there are nice blinds at the window. The small room which used to be the bedroom is now my office, and this is where I was, sitting in splendour. I have bookshelves for my law books, I have a filing cabinet because some things still happen on paper, and I have three computers, yes three, and another big table where I can do my family tree stuff… because as well as being a solicitor I do people’s family trees.
The veg shop down below is very small – it’s the end of a row of other shops and whether the builder ran out of land or whether he wanted a small shop, whatever, it is much smaller than the others, which is why the flat has just one bedroom, a minuscule bathroom, and an even more minuscule kitchen… The kitchen, empty of any cooking stuff, apart from a kettle, microwave and a fridge, is just there to make tea and coffee..
Hmm… my first day in my new office… well, half a day. I have to collect various kids from various places and then I’ll be home getting dinner ready for us all and doing dadly things… perfect!
There was a ‘dong’ and I enquired through the entry phone who it was, feeling rather full of myself – I’d only been here an hour on my first day, I had plenty to do, and wasn’t expecting anyone, but here was a client…
My optimism deflated like a punctured football – I’d been playing footie on the beach with Kenneil and Terri and I confess I rather booted the ball, it hit a rock, bounced off and then sat there deflating…
“Come up, Inspector Graham!” I said with false heartiness. I slapped down a feeling of anxiety, I had nothing to be anxious about, I’d done nothing wrong… well, nothing that anyone apart from my friend David knows about.
Last year I was involved in a rather nasty incident which ended up in two people being dead… I’d spent rather more time with the police than I wanted, and had to go to court – well two courts a coroner’s court and a crown court. I had a few nightmares after that, I can tell you… a period of insomnia, and altogether an unpleasant few months… But I battened it all down, locked it all away and got on with being a dad and a husband…
“Thomas, good to see you, I hope you don’t mind me dropping in without an appointment,” Graham said as we shook hands. I greeted him as enthusiastically and normally as I could and he asked me to call him ‘Charles’ which I took to be a signal that he wasn’t here on police business and my heart rated slowed back to normalish.
He asked after the family and as usual I wittered on too much about how they all were – I still can’t get over how fortunate I am; I had many sad years when I thought I would never be a dad… and now I am, five times over!
“And how are your brothers?” he asked… and this began to be a bit odd… he really is not a friend by any means, and I can’t imagine he has any real interest in the various Radwinters… if it had been anyone other than Inspector Graham, I would think he was flannelling, building himself up to say something unexpected… hmmm…

In case you haven’t yet met Thomas, or read any of my other books, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

Nancy with the laughing face

We met someone recently called Nancy, and afterwards we remarked Nancy was no longer a very common name, which is surprising for several reasons – older names are becoming really fashionable and Nancy is such a pretty name.

Thinking back, I can’t actually remember anyone I was at school with called Nancy, nor worked with, nor taught… Someone my dad worked with had a wife called Nancy, and my husband had a great-aunt with that name. In some figures I came across for, 2015, Nancy came 71/100, so maybe it will creep back in.

Nancy originated from Ann, or Anne,, and thinking back, sometimes my dad called my sister Anne, Nancy/Nance/Nan. There are quite a few famous Nancies (but in the list I looked at there were quite a few I didn’t know!

  • Nanci Griffith -singer
  • Nancy, Lady Astor, (née  Witcher Langhorne)
  • Nancy Dell’Olio, Italian lawyer
  • Nancy Mitford, English novelist and biographer
  • Nancy O’Dell, American  journalist
  • Nancy Pelosi, 60th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives
  • Nancy Reagan, former First Lady of the United States
  • Nancy Sinatra, American singer and actress
  • Nancy Wilson the singer

The name crops up in fiction too, including a character in Swallows and Amazons, and in Oliver Twist. Nancy, Nance, or nancy-boy is also slang for someone who is gay – I’m not sure how current it is though!

Then of course there is the city  of Nancy in France, and its surrounding  arrondissement de Nancy.

And songs, apparently, although I don’t know it, Ed Sheeran has a song he wrote about his grandmother, and the famous Frank Sinatra song, Nancy with the laughing face. I have just found out while looking up things about Nancy, that there is a funny story attached to the song… Here is what Wikipedia says:

Nancy (with the Laughing Face)” is a song composed in 1942 by Jimmy Van Heusen, with lyrics by Phil Silvers. It is commonly believed that the song was written for the birthday of Nancy Sinatra. This was a misunderstanding that eventually led to the song being recorded by Frank Sinatra. Former broadcast executive and music historian Rick Busciglio tells the story of the song’s inception as related to him by Van Heusen:

In 1979, I was working with songwriter Jimmy Van Heusen on a TV special with Frank Sinatra and Bob Hope that was never produced. Jimmy told me that one day (circa 1942) he and his lyricist Johnny Burke were working at 20th Century-Fox composing for a film. While Burke was out of their writer’s bungalow, Phil Silvers, the comedian, a friend to both, entered and suggested to Jimmy that they write a song for Johnny’s wife, Bessie, who was soon to celebrate a birthday. Silvers provided the lyrics, later revised by Van Heusen and Burke.
At the party they sang “Bessie… with the laughing face.” It was such a hit that they used it at other female birthday events. When they sang it as “Nancy… with the laughing face” at little Nancy Sinatra’s birthday party, Frank broke down and cried thinking that it was written specially for his daughter – the trio wisely didn’t correct him. Jimmy assigned his royalties to Nancy after Frank recorded it for Columbia in 1944.

Here is  Nancy’s song, from Oliver Twist, the musical by Lionel Bart, sung here by Judy Garland:

By the way, my featured image is of anonymous fashion model, i just thought she had a Nancy-like face.

Piecing it together

I guess each writer has their own way of working, and what seems the most obvious and straightforward and sensible thing to do for one person, seems eccentric to say the least for someone else. Some people like lists  and flow charts, tick sheets and filing cards and have planned the whole thing meticulously before they even start writing the introduction, others just plunge in completely randomly and make it up as they go along… I am not exactly a plunge right in at random person – but neither am I a plans and lists person.

I guess I do a lot of planning before I actually start (most of the time – but there have been stories which I just randomly started writing!)  but my planning is mental, I spend car journeys, or waiting in queues, or pondering as I drift into sleep, I think of characters, and situations, and puzzles and coincidences, and weird things which happen to ordinary people. During this period I might do a little bit of prospective writing, maybe a few pages, maybe a few chapters; usually these embryonic starts are abandoned, sometimes they get rewritten, sometimes they become something else completely, sometimes they are included almost as they were first written.

As my writing proceeds I do occasionally do jottings on paper – when I wrote my first Radwinter novel I had huge sheets of paper with family trees, because it was so complicated – for me, not the reader, I hope! I had tried to follow the pattern of a lot of families, with recurring names – names from parents, grandparents, ancestral and maternal surnames included, but I had to make sure it was clear in my mind, in order for it to be clear to the reader!

In the sequel to ‘Radwinter’, ‘Magick’ – the maternal line of the family, I also had mighty sheets of paper with family trees, because at one point a family changed its name, there were several branches of the family which interwove, there were all sorts of complications – for me – once again, I hoped the story was clear and uncomplicated for people reading it!

In the new, as yet untitled Radwinter novel, which I’m getting into, there is a genealogical investigation, but it is quite linear and so not too complicated (although there are mysteries, of course!) but I have another task which needs to be sorted out before I get full-on with the actual writing. You see, in my previous book in the series, ‘Earthquake’, there were as usual several story lines – but a couple too many! I had done a lot of writing, so, with the wonders of modern technology, I was able to cut out the extra storylines, and save them for another time.

This is what Earthquake was originally:

  • a family tree/history/genealogy
  • the mystery of a school girl who died in 1931, and her twelve classmates
  • an earthquake (of course, since it’s the title of the novel!)
  • a new arrival in the Radwinter family, a new arrival who has an unhappy history
  • two of the four Radwinter brothers struggling in different ways with what I guess you could call ‘personal issues’
  • a young woman with amnesia
  • a haunted hotel
  • the everyday story of Thomas Radwinter and his family
  • an old cake-making gentleman

… so you can see it would have been far too long and far too complicated! The main stories I cut out were the family history  story, and the girl who had lost her memory. I had written nearly forty thousand words on these, so you can see it would have been a very long book indeed.

Now, in my new Radwinter story, there is plenty of room, to use these story-lines, much slimmed down I have to say, but there are also other new ‘adventures’ too!

  • one, if not two stalkers (of different characters)
  • house-hunting
  • obsessive jealousy/possessiveness

Because most of my stories are set in the small imaginary seaside town of Easthope, it has struck me that characters from different novels must ‘know’ each other. The manager of the bookshop (owned by a character from ‘The Double Act’) in the town, must know or at least know of, the most famous local writer who was a main character in my 2016 novel, ‘Lucky Portbraddon’… and somehow in this new novel, characters from ‘Night Vision’ have started to appear! I don’t know how they sneaked in!!

So… back to my weaving!

Here are links to my books:

Radwinter:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

Magick:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00OHV4MR0/ref=series_rw_dp_sw

night vision:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/night-vision-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B00BMZ6UWY/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-5&keywords=lois+elsden

The Double Act

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Double-Act-think-romance-story-ebook/dp/B01349UBHA/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1496132827&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

Lucky Portbraddon

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=pd_sim_351_1?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1&refRID=H7BX6ANG1G2CJJHPG62N

…and all my stories:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden

 

 

A view of the world…

I don’t watch a lot of videos, but I think I might watch more by these guys…

We were in Hereford recently, and in the magnificent cathedral, we saw the Mappa Mundi… I first saw it when I was a child, now it is protected by a glass screen, then it was just flat on a table. It is an amazing work – literally a map of the world dating from about 1300…

So back to videos, here is a video about the Mappa Mundi:

JAY FOREMAN and MARK COOPER-JONES are Map Men

The best salad I have ever ever ever eaten!

Our Dutch friends think we are very odd and rather funny (in the nicest fondest way) because we love to visit what to them is a perfectly ordinary supermarket – Jumbo! It’s not just that it has lots of interesting and delicious looking Dutch foods – everyday items and speciality, it’s just so interesting to see a completely normal supermarket in another country.

There is a big new store, Jumbo Foodmarkt Veghel,  opened in what had been an old factory complex – a milling operation I think. We went there last year, and this year we went again… We had had a busy morning being good tourists, and by the time we got to the shop it was lunch time! I’m not sure if the restaurant was part of Jumbo – I’m pretty sure it was, but it was in its own space, opposite a beer shop with literally hundreds, if not thousands of different sorts of beer, mostly from the Netherlands, but also from Belgium and other European countries. There was also a big speciality food market, which would have been really interesting to go round, but we were a little pressed for time.

We settled ourselves at a table, our order was taken, our friends wanted a tuna salad sandwich, my husband a burger, and I asked for salad – meat, fish or vegetarian, I was asked. I decided on the veggie option… The tuna salad sandwiches arrived – the most generous size I have ever seen, and the burger, which was like a mini home-made burger, very chunky but lunchtime sized with loads of chips – definitely not frozen but fresh-cut and cooked by the looks of it… and then my salad…

The photo really doesn’t do it justice… every mouthful was different and delicious.. it was so wonderful that I actually made a list of ingredients, as far as I could tell, so I could try to replicate it at home… The man who had taken our orders had also cooked and prepared the meals, and when he came over, I think he was a bit surprised (but also delighted!) by my enthusiasm! I showed him my list and I think I had found everything – except the balsamic vinegar!

here is what I think was in the salad:

  • mixed baby leaves dressed in the lightest of oil/balsamic dressing
  • lightly roasted nuts including almonds, walnuts, cashews
  • seeds including sesame and sunflower (maybe some pumpkin)
  • baby pickled onions and teeny-weeny-tiny pickled gherkins
  • pickled slices of carrot (still crunchy and in a very light pickle)
  • cucumber
  • baby tomatoes preserved in olive oil and herbs
  • tomatoes
  • soft goats’ cheese masked in a dressing of tomatoes, fig, red peppers and paprika (the peppers may have been preserved in olive oil too, or roasted, very soft, savoury dressing)
  • decorated with a creamy dressing, which I think was slightly herby, maybe garlicky
  • what I think may have been seaweed… but not completely sure on that, it did taste lovely though and was bright green!

I know it sounds ridiculous maybe to be so enamoured by a salad – a collection of things just put together (the man said he had just taken whatever he fancied out of the bowls of ingredients and made the salad specially for me) – but honestly, it was just yummy!

Cornflower

Cornflowers… they don’t just grow in cornfields, they grow pretty much everywhere, but I guess their striking blue is shown up beautifully against a mass of ripening wheat, barley, oats, rye, (corn in a general sense meaning grain) and so were given the name.

I didn’t realise they are edible – imagine how pretty they would look as a garnish to summer dishes! They were originally a European plant but have since spread, accidentally and purposefully, to just about every other continent with the right climate and conditions. They have been here in the British Isles since very ancient times – next time I imagine a landscape with our neolithic ancestors wandering round, I shall add some cornflowers!

As you might imagine, their gorgeous colour has been used as a colouring, but the flowers do have a medicinal use, as an eyewash, apparently they are most effective. As with most striking plants, they are an emblem used in many countries – they are the national flower of Estonia, and in former times, of parts of Germany. They are also used as a symbol of various political European parties, mostly it seems right-wing – I guess in contrast to the association of red with socialism.

We were lucky enough to be in the Netherlands last week, and while out walking came across a whole field dotted with cornflowers! Now whenever I see them, I’ll think not just of neolithic peoples, not just my own childhood, but our Dutch friends and the great time we always have together!