An introduction to Thomas

Thomas Radwinter is a character who I first wrote about in 2013; I thought I had completed his story when I published ‘Radwinter’ as an e-book in February 2014. However, since then his story has continued, much to my surprise. two weeks ago, I published that same first Thomas novel as a paperback.

It’s an ordinary evening in September 2013, and Thomas is visiting his brother Paul:

I knocked on Paul’s door and I must admit I felt rather glum; I shouldn’t have been surprised that Rebecca had something else to do which involved the car, so I’d had to catch the bus. I’d asked if she could drop me off, but she said as we live on one side of Strand and Paul lives on the other, it wasn’t convenient as she was going in the opposite direction. I was so cross I didn’t even ask where she was going, and it was only as I sat on the number 403 that I wondered.

Paul’s son opens the door, but he is just going out with a friend so Thomas is left alone in the hall:

The hall was large and well-lit and despite being an all-male household, Paul manages to keep it neat. He has a cleaner who comes in several times a week, but Paul is just a neat bloke. Everything he does is precise, and he always looks tidy, unlike me. Rebecca told me I just look like a bundle of clothes, well, a fat bundle of clothes she said to be accurate. Considering she buys all my things that’s hardly my fault… but she says I’m fat so maybe that’s my fault… but then she moans if I don’t eat what she’s cooked… and she is a very good cook so I like eating her meals…
I stood in the hall not quite knowing what to do, dithering, Rebecca would say; the house was quiet although there was music coming from somewhere, and the sound of a guitar being played from somewhere else, and what sounded like gun fire from someone playing a computer game.
Should I knock on the sitting room door? But that would be silly, knocking in my own brother’s house. Or maybe they were eating a late dinner, there was a sweet caramelly smell…unless it was an air-freshener, Rebecca had one once that smelt like strawberry bootlaces… the long sweetie things which I still sometimes secretly buy…
Or maybe they were in the kitchen… what to do? I stood dithering and suddenly the kitchen door was flung open… Paul’s family do a lot of door flinging, they are always so cheerful and exuberant… very different from Marcus’s two.
“Tommy!” only Paul calls me that, well, John does too sometimes. He looked pleased to see me, well, he looked delighted which always surprises me when anyone does and why anyone should. “What are you doing, lurking here?! Come through to the kitchen, we’re in here.”

Later, looking back, Thomas thinks that this was the moment when his life changed in a way he could never have imagined. If you want to find out what happened to Thomas, and why the meeting with his brother Paul was so significant, you can find my novel ‘Radwinter’ here:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1498838948&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

Here is a link to the other Thomas Radwinter stories:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&qid=1498838948&sr=8-7&keywords=lois+elsden

From Brighton to Great Yarmouth

A couple of days ago I confided here that I had got myself in a bit of a pickle with the book I am writing at the moment. I suddenly realised there was a great flaw in the family history of one of the characters; I’d made a bit of a blunder and written a whole series of episodes based on a premise which was wrong in various ways… it doesn’t matter what the ways were, the point I was pondering was what I should do.

I do a lot of thinking about my writing when I’m doing other things, driving somewhere, waiting for something or someone, in the hour or so before I fall asleep and a similar amount of time as I wake up the next morning. So, I stared at the screen a lot, reread the thread which would have to be rewritten, played about with various history sites and a few genealogical ones too… then this morning I got it!

I must admit I thought it would be a massive rewrite and lots of checking, but in fact, I’ve managed to rescue quite a lot… The scene changed from Brighton to Great Yarmouth and a couple of places in Norfolk; a convalescent home which became an asylum, and then a home for soldiers wounded in WWI, then a school, then another convalescent home for WWII soldiers and then a complex of fancy apartments (yes a complex thread!), became a tuberculosis sanatorium which was then bombed in WWI (yes, Norfolk and other east coast places were bombed in the first world war); details of the patients, the doctors and nurses, the neighbours who lived near the sanatorium also had new identities… and I think these changes have made the story better, more interesting, and with a greater scope for intriguing story lines and plot twists.

Much greater writers than me have had disasters, losing manuscripts, servants burning them, leaving them on trains etc… nothing a dramatic or disastrous for me, but I have realised that sometimes out of things going wrong, things going very much better can happen! … actually that’s a bit like life really!

Here’s a link to my novels… I’ve had to do a few rewrites on them too, I can tell you!!

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

 

Getting books out there

I’ve written a lot about the difficulties I had over the years of getting my books taken up by agents and publishers; I’ve written dozens and dozens of letters, sent sample chapters off – and doing these things having researched as far as I could the requirements of said publishers and agents. I’ve, made sure I rang first if that’s what they said, wrote an introductory letter, if that’s what they required, sent specific samples… I got polite replies from some, I was ignored by most, and got rude replies from a few. Much of this was done before the internet, so everything had to be posted (with self-addressed, stamped envelopes included when I sent sample chapters) Many places said they would only look at stuff if theirs was the only place the item was sent to… so I would send it off, wait for months and months, and usually got no response, and would then send off a second copy to someone else. In the early days I had to type out a copy – I was so relieved when photocopying was available at a price I could afford.

So come the new age, come the internet and things became a little easier in terms of contacting people – and I soldiered on. I did wonder if maybe I was getting nowhere because my stories were rubbish – well, maybe they were but they were not as rubbish as a lot of things which were published! In the end, as I have mentioned here – and in a way it’s why I write here, I was able to take things into my own hands and self-publish on Kindle, publish my novels as e-books.

I’m sure it is partly luck, whether your novel arrives on the right desk on the right day, or whether your phone call is picked up by the right person, or the judges on a competition panel like the sort of thing you write, so luck, yes luck plays a huge part… But there is something else…

And this is the something else. I recently read a really good book, a first novel, published in another country and now available with massive promotion over here. The writer has never written a novel before, but now here it is – or rather, here they are, piles of them in all the book shops. Wow! Amazing! Wonderful and many congratulations! … is it a classic, a book which will endure over the decades… no possibly, probably, definitely not, it’s just a good read, a good yarn, well written.

So I look in the back of the book to find out more about the writer. The writer won an unpublished book competition – well done!! You deserve it – but there is a list of ‘thank you’s’ (which is nice) I always include ‘thank you’s’, but these ‘thank you’s’ are to:

  • four different editors at three different publishing companies
  • copy-editors
  • designers
  • marketing and sales persons
  • four different lots of agents
  • a writing course (teachers, fellow students etc)
  • and of course family and friends

Now all these things came together, and it is such a good book, I’m glad they all did. The writer is actually a journalist, so the day job became the life job (well, I hope writing is the life job!) As they were a journalist, I just wonder if maybe the contacts a journalist makes can help when a book wins a competition, the support, the networking, the knowing the right person… However, a competition was entered, and a competition was won!

So… I should keep on entering the competitions, obviously!

In the meantime, if you want to read my stories, all available as e-books and ‘Radwinter‘ available as a paperback, here is a link to them:

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

 

 

Going to the dump

We are very lucky because we have really good binmen – or should I call them refuse collectors or waste disposal operatives? Whatever they should be called I would like to thank them for collecting all our various bins of rubbish – and we all have so many these days – a big black bin for unrecyclables, a brown bin for food waste, two green boxes for paper/metal/glass/plastic/ /cardboard and other recyclables, a big green bin for garden waste… out they all go early morning on the designated day and the big bin-lorries come round.

However, there is often stuff which doesn’t fit in bins – especially when you’ve been clearing out the garage like we have! There is also big garden waste which won’t fit in the bin, broken stuff, big pieces of rubbish, packaging… it accumulates and then has to be got rid of. The council will come and pick extra stuff up (not sure if a fee is involved) or you can take it yourself to the dump – well, at least are lucky that we can in our town.

Today we had a pile of branches from the apple tree, and from the quince and the buddleia, and we also had loads of old tins of paint, all half empty, mostly left over from the old gentleman who had the house before us, but some of ours too. So we squeezed it all in the car and set off for the dump. We entered through some blue gates and there before us were disposal areas for every thing you could imagine. The road leads through the site and to the right are big bins for domestic recyclables like glass, paper etc, but also clothes, shoes and other home items. There is also a caged area for fridges and freezers (are they caged so they don’t escape?!) On the right, past some administrative buildings is the area for most waste. The roadway is raised so the massive containers for the different sorts of item are below us. They are all caged but with a ‘doorway’ through which stuff can be thrown; there are containers for metal, wood, garden waste, unrecyclable rubbish etc. There is also a separate area for oil, for used paint (in a big bin, lined with black plastic which had been taped so it wouldn’t fall in on itself) used books/cds etc… oh and much more.

We went mid-morning and joined a queue of other householders, patiently waiting to slot into a parking bay to unload their rubbish. Everywhere were the workers, bustling about, helping people, sweeping up spills, organising, directing, smiling and cheerful. There were ‘visitors’ of all ages, young and old, all helping to dispose of their own rubbish in the right way.

As we drove away with our empty car, we reflected on lucky we are – and yet how easy it was, less than half an hour from home and back. So why oh why oh why do so many people drive out into the lovely countryside and just chuck their rubbish into ditches and onto farmers’ land – I’m not talking about ‘professional’ fly-tippers, I’m talking about ordinary citizens like us with a small amount of unwanted items. People are a mystery!

Fried cucumbers and celery in gravy

I love old cookery books, especially prewar twentieth century collections – some of the recipes are so current, the ingredients to be found in every food shop today, and yet some are just so distant from our tastes that I don’t think they even have a place on a 1930’s themed party!

Savouries and supper dishes – a selection in my Modern Practical Cookery book published in the 1930’s, stuffed aubergine? Yes please! Grilled mushrooms and oysters? Sounds good! Lobster canapes? Certainly! Gnocchi? Various things with asparagus, chicken livers or chestnuts? Yes, they all sound good…

Then there are dishes which sound fine but not exciting, omelets of all sorts, lots of things with cheese – puddings, puffs, balls, savouries, lots of things with ham or tomatoes or eggs, and I know they are not as popular now (although I always have a few tins in the cupboard) but lots of suggestions for sardine ‘savouries and snacks’.

However, some of the ideas are just very odd (and I’m sure must have seemed so then) and some sound downright horrid!

  • banana and cheese savoury – also with capers and anchovy paste…
  • bloater savoury (a bloater is a cold smoked haddock) – with bloater and bloater paste
  • celery in gravy – no, just no – especially as the celery is cooked for fifty (yes 50) minutes and served with bacon and fried bread – as well as the gravy made from Bisto
  • fried cucumbers – you may wonder how you could fry a cucumber; the secret is to boil slices of it first along with some small whole onions for ten minutes, then scoop out the seeds, roll in flour, egg and breadcrumbs, then fry before serving on a slice of fried tomato, with the boiled onion which has been further cooked in a white sauce, and garnished with the white oniony sauce
  • curried bananas??? served with hard-boiled eggs
  • steamed eggs on kipper toast – sounds wrong for many reasons
  • parsnip pie
  • stuffed prunes – stuffed with chutney, wrapped round with bacon and served on a sort of rosti
  • sardine biscuits… I think not
  • tongue sauté – cold tongue, chopped cooked potato, minced onion, chopped tomatoes, all fried together then topped with cheese and browned under the grill – maybe it tastes better than it sounds
  • steamed turkey cream – no thanks
  • vegetable shortcakes – it sounds as if this might have been on the menu for  school dinner

In need of a rethink

There’s an awful lot of thinking that has to happen before I can get writing… Sometimes it is a sort of subliminal thinking, a sort of mental playing about with a few scraps of ideas, the sort of things I mention when I’m writing here – a ragbag of odd names, unexpected facial expressions, ‘what if’ moments, fleeting glimpses of things, overheard scraps of conversation, vague and tenuous drifts of leftover dream on waking, misunderstood or misheard comments, graffiti, juxtaposed images, memories, odd news items, strange weather, rivers and seas and rivers meeting seas…

Then, for me, there’s a gradual coming together and the beginning of some form, and then I start – and usually when I start (which may not necessarily be at the beginning of the story) words come out in a stupendous rush, and ideas coalesce and form and reform, and strange branches of thought go off in all sort of directions. Sometimes I’m taken up with an idea – sometimes it needs a lot of research and I plunge into that in a fury, and write and write.

Then comes the more staid workmanlike work (is that tautology?) All the other things continue – the mental playing about, the coalescing, the sudden spurts of enthusiasm and inspiration, but it’s more formed now, following the pattern of the narrative.

And then… and then sometimes comes a realisation that there has been an error – maybe it’s something simple like a character’s name or description isn’t right, or that two characters have become confused, or there is a gap where a crucial explanation is missing, or something is written so badly it just has to come out and be rewritten, or there is a whole thread which doesn’t fit at all and needs to be extracted and maybe saved for another story. These things are a bit annoying, but only a bit… lots of work, but it’s all OK.

And then… and then and then there is the major blunder. I am about thirty thousand words into a new story so it’s not a disaster – at least I haven’t finished the first draft and suddenly seen the major blunder!  I have several story lines, a family history, a stalker, the looking for/finding/buying a new house, a jealous ex-husband, not a missing but a found person – a found person who is also amnesiac, and then there are all the general plotlines around characters – their lives and loves etc.

As I was doing some extra research for my imagined family history, it suddenly came to me that I had made a fundamental error of judgement and would need to rethink the whole story of this family’s genealogy. Not a disaster, of course, I can do that… but it’s just irritating that I spent so much time working it out and researching it in the first place, and now not only do I need to unpick it, but also create a new history for them!

Here’s a link to my books which did make it through to being published – they all had a lot of rewriting in them, I hope you can’t see the joins! My novels are all e-readers, except ‘Radwinter’ which is also published as a paperback:

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