Smilin’ from her head to her feet

Yesterday I shared a video of the forever famous  popular song, ‘All Right Now’, a massive hit for Free in 1970. It was probably written by Free bass player Andy Fraser and lead singer Paul Rodgers

For most people it’s possibly the only song they can think of by the band…. not surprising really as they had such a short life, forming in London in 1968 and splitting up in 1973. As I listened to the song, I realised I knew hardly anything about the band, and in fact when I saw the video I didn’t recognise them – I think because I had muddled them with another short-lived band, Sweet. Sweet was a glam-rock band which also formed in 1968 but they lasted through the seventies until a final bust up in 1981. Since then there have been various versions of the band recording and touring.

Free who was given the name by Alexis Korner, began with four very young members:

  • lead singer Paul Rodgers, 18
  • drums Simon Kirke, 18
  • lead guitarist Paul Kossoff, 17
  • bass Andy Fraser, 15

Free toured almost non-stop, and their shows were apparently sensational – a tiring and destructive life for such young men. Although they were so popular, their albums did not sell very well to begin with… until they released Fire and Water  in 1970, and their performance at the at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival.


An archaeology walk round my village

A couple of years ago I undertook an on-line archaeological course; I absolutely loved it, and really enjoyed the assignments we were set. Here is one which involved looking at somewhere very familiar tome, and making some assessment of it:

For this assignment I went on an archaeology walk round my village. Uphill is a very small village just south of Weston-super-Mare on the coast of the Bristol Channel where the Axe flows into the sea. This area has been inhabited since Neolithic times; there were caves containing 40,000 year-old flint tools and worked and butchered bones of animals including the woolly mammoth and cave lion, there is a Bronze Age field system on nearby Walborough, the Romans are likely to have used the Axe to ship out minerals mined on the nearby Mendip Hills, and the area has been home to fishing and farming families over the millennia.

So… there is a lot of history in Uphill, but I want to explore the little village’s industrial past. If you visit Uphill you’ll think it a delightful and peaceful little village with nothing to hear but birdsong and the tide coming in. There are a few businesses here, two pubs, a restaurant, a sign-writers shop, an osteopath, the village shop… there’s the boatyard and marina and camp-site and a little tea-room. The only through traffic is going down to the beach… so really we are a quiet little place.

It wasn’t always so; there’s a wharf in Uphill which was busy for boats bringing coal and sheep from Wales, for example, and boats departing loaded with limestone and lime. There was also a quarry; Uphill is on the last of the Mendip Hills, a limestone range of undulating uplands, and limestone in past times was a valuable commodity.

Limestone was used extensively for building, and with the arrival of railways it was used for ballast (railways came to Weston in 1841); it was also made into lime by being burned in a kiln. Lime was used to ‘sweeten’ acidic arable land; it was used as a whitewash, in the steel industry and as mortar for building. It was particularly used from the mid 1700’s and limestone was quarried here in Uphill from the beginning of the nineteenth century. Not only was the limestone quarried, but lime was made in a lime-kiln here at the quarry. The kiln was fed with Welsh coal, brought into Uphill from across the Bristol Channel, and no doubt the same ships took the product away.

You can’t imagine that a kiln would make much more than a roaring noise, but getting the limestone to put in the kiln was very noisy… the quarrymen weren’t just there with pick axes and chisels, they had gunpowder and later dynamite. For safety reasons the explosives were kept in a special store, set into the rock face, built of limestone and with a special metal door, known as “a sacrificial wall’ which acted as a safety valve if there was an accident, the door would blow out, rather than the powder house itself blowing up.

The powder-house probably went out of use by 1930 and now there is little left to see, just some tumbled walls and stone shelves against the cliff face, overgrown with ivy, brambles and nettles… and we can only imagine the noise of the industry, the explosions, the crashing rocks, the wagons rolling backwards and forwards, now all is peaceful in Uphill!

© Lois Elsden 2017

There he is! Walking down the street!

My subject of my novel ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’ is easy to guess!! I return to the theme of stalkers and being stalked in the book I am working on now, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’; one of the characters is troubled by someone who seems to be stalking him… at present it is harmless, letters, small gifts, other messages. He doesn’t know who it is but it’s troubling.

I came across something I wrote some time ago, and this is from the point of view of someone who becomes intrigued then infatuated and then obsessed about a stranger… Here is an excerpt:

There he is walking down the street in front of me! … There he was just a-walking down the street.. is that a song from the sixties? Or maybe it was something else… there he stood in the street , smiling from his head to his feet

But anyway – there he is! And before I know it I’m walking after him, following him! He walks quite quickly, but then he does everything quickly. I’ve watched him working, and whatever it is, selling tickets, doing stuff behind the counter, making coffee, rearranging chairs, he works quickly… not hurrying, not rushed, not slap-dash, he’s just quick.

I keep up with him as he goes round the corner walking along past the back of the shopping centre. Slim waisted, neat figure… he isn’t very tall, long-bodied rather than long-legged, wearing jeans as usual and a black polo shirt.

Suddenly he stops and I almost stop too but he has met someone and I have to carry on walking, stepping out into the road to go round them.

I get a snatch of conversation, his friend, a taller man, balding and with has short blondy red beard, is saying something about Clacton… Clacton? Isn’t that a seaside town in… in Essex maybe?

I cross over the entrance to the car park, and there’s no traffic to stop me and I’m walking away, wanting to glance over my shoulder… I get to the corner and stop and get out my phone and stare at it hopefully… then I have to cross over, I can’t stand there for ever. But the lights are red so I wait. I glance left and he’s standing beside me, so close that I can see a blue mark on his cheek as if he’s stabbed himself with a pen.

I stare across the road, and it’s only when someone pushes against me, someone behind me that I step out and move, a couple of feet behind him again. He cuts across in front of me and has only gone a few yards beyond the crossing when a car stops, he bends to look in and then opens the door and slips into the passenger seat. There’s a burst of music then the door shuts and they drive away… I stop and stare after them, memorising the number…

“Are you alright, dear?” an elderly gentleman asks me. “Do you need help?”

I gather my sense… no I’m fine, I tell him with a smile, I’ve just remembered something… and thanking him again I set off to find the nearest bar… and when I lift the large glass of Pinot, my hand’s trembling.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my e-books, and my recently published paperbacks, ‘So You Want To Write‘, and ‘Radwinter’:

Makes sense

I’ve posted  about the five senses which are so important to consider when writing – well, I think it is. I still have a slight problem with the very good advice –  ‘show don’t tell‘ – I still sink into the telling mode rather than the showing mode. However, since I know I’m not good on this, I always go through my stories afterwards while editing,  and, without going overboard, see if I can enhance what I’ve written by cutting out some of the telling and subtly inserting more showing.

When I was waffling on about the five senses, touch, smell, sight, sound, taste, I added another which is rather imposingly called thermoception – temperature!

In the article I read which first introduced me to this idea, there were other senses which we could use as writers –

  • equillibrioception – the sense of balance; our characters could have balance impacting literally eg a wobbly bridge, or mentally by some emotional crisis – or the two adjacent to each other
  • nociception is the sense of physical pain or discomfort – this can be actual or emotional (and sometimes emotional pain can be physical too!)
  • proprioception – the ability to know where our limbs a, even if we are in the dark or can’t see them… I shall have to think how this could be incorporated into my writing – but it’s something I should consider!

Apparently nine senses have been identified – all of the above, plus an ‘itch/pressure’ sensation and also ‘animal senses’ – such as echo-location  and ultra high frequency hearing.

Here is a link to a very helpful article about writers using senses:

A link to my books:


Look up!! A long story…

I have shared this before, but since it is almost an anniversary of when some of these things happened I am sharing it again… it is a long story though!

The girl’s father would always say, look up, look up! Look at the sky, look at the roof lines, the chimneys, the guttering, the curiously shaped windows, look up! At the birds, at the trees, at the stars, look up!

Many years later, after looking up for much of her life in different ways, the girl joined a writing group; the subject one week was ‘The Cosmos’ … It was not something she hadn’t thought about before; she’d been interested in space, the universe, in looking up. She’d seen the first moon landing on TV, had watched other launches and missions, had stood outside on cold nights gazing at the heavens for one thing or another to happen.

However, to write about the Cosmos, she felt adrift, and first explored its literal meaning:

the universe regarded as a complex and orderly system; the opposite of chaos… Pythagoras used the term cosmos for the order of the universe, but it was only when the geographer and polymath, Alexander von Humboldt and assigned it to his treatise, Kosmos, that we gained our perception of the universe as one interacting entity.

Or maybe she half-remember this…

Cosmos… ‘Cosmos – a popular science book and TV series by Carl Sagan.

She thought she might have watched this series, and the more she thought, the more she was sure she had. She’d seen other programmes by Carl Sagan, and read books by him too; however, when pondering on what to write for her writing group she discovered that he wasn’t the only one to write something entitled ‘Cosmos:

  • Cosmos – a seventeen chapter serial novel, published in Science Fiction Digest in 1933 
  • Cosmos –  a 1965 novel by Witold Gombrowicz, a Polish writer (1904 -1969)
  • Kosmos – a scientific treatise by Alexander von Humboldt
  • The Kosmos Trilogy – a series of philosophy books by Ken Wilber

… and there were magazines, periodicals and journals:

  • COSMOS – the scientific journal of the Singapore National Academy of Science
  • Cosmos – an Australian popular science magazine
  • Cosmos – an essay collection of emerging issues, published by the Cosmos Club
  • Cosmos Science Fiction – a short-lived sci-fi magazine edited by David G. Hartwell
  • Cosmos -a different, short-lived sci-fi magazine
  • Kosmos –  the scientific journal of the Polish Copernicus Society of Naturalists

She hadn’t known any of that, and apart from being the answers to quizzes or crossword puzzles she wasn’t sure that any of it would be much use to her… ‘but you never know…’ she thought, philosophically.

She reasoned that most people thought of ‘the cosmos‘ in terms of Astrophysics…

  • Cosmos 1 – a privately funded solar sail spacecraft project
  • Cosmic Evolution Survey (COSMOS) – a Hubble Space Telescope Treasury Project
  • Kosmos – a series of Soviet/Russian rockets and satellites
  • Cosmonaut – one who adventures into the cosmos, as in space, the universe etc.

… but she discovered that there was music of all genres entitled Cosmos, musicians, singers, bands, song-writers, songs, albums, TV shows, films, football and soccer clubs, computer and technology companies, all with the title of Cosmos, or some variation, and places named after it:

  • Cosmos in Minnesota, USA
  • Cosmos in  Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
  • Kosmos in North West Province, South Africa
  • Kosmos in Washington, USA

It was some time in October, and although bedtimes were strict, one night she was wrapped in a blanket and taken outside, down the garden by the almost perfectly round rose-bush, and her father pointed to the sky. Look up! Look up there! Do you see it? Do you see that moving light? Like a moving star? That’s Sputnik, you’re seeing history! They were his actual words, you’re seeing history!

Earlier in her life, one August, when she and her sister were in bed in their small bedroom at the front of the house, their parents were in the garden on a warm summer’s night, chatting to their neighbours. They were down the garden, where it was darker, no light from their houses reaching them. They were standing chatting, the four of them, when suddenly, overhead, a brilliant light flashed across the sky, too high and too quick to be an aeroplane.

The moving light stopped, and seemed to hang, stationary, then suddenly it changed direction by 90 degrees and again shot across the sky and vanished.

Her father was a scientist, a practical man, not given to fancy or fantasy. He had been in the army during the war, he knew what aircraft flying at night looked like… what the four of them had seen was not an aircraft. He had no explanation for it, except that it was something extra-terrestrial, something which later might be called a UFO.

At the time there was no way of finding out more; however, there were reports in newspapers of a strange occurrence over fifty miles away in Suffolk… Now, many people know of the curious incidents in the night of August 13th which happened near RAF Lakenheath and RAF Bentwaters in Suffolk, at that time occupied by the USAF. It was a night when the Perseid meteor shower was particularly brilliant. The girls’ father was fascinated by the sky and space, so maybe he and his wife and the neighbours were outside on that pleasant August night gazing at the shooting stars, when the saw the strange fast-moving light.

“During August 13th to 14th 1956 a number of radar and visual contacts were made by RAF and USAF personnel. It began around 9.30pm on Bentwaters Airbase, Suffolk; an object was tracked on radar travelling at speeds up to Mach 15 (1800 mph). A T33 trainer aircraft was diverted to intercept. Around 9.35 pm a number of radar returns were tracked moving north-east.”

“Military personnel on the ground at Lakenheath also saw a number of luminous objects. Two of them appeared to make a sharp change in course, merge together and then fade to a point of light as they moved off. Two RAF De Havilland Venom interceptors were scrambled. One pilot locked onto the target only to find the object circled and was now travelling behind his aircraft. The second Venom did not make visual contact before the object vanished off radar.”

North-east of Suffolk is the city where the girls’ family lived, and where her parents stood in the garden with friends one summer night.

Look up! Look up!

© Lois Elsden 2017

Apple Tree Lean Down

It must have been some time in the 70’s when either my mum or I found a novel called ‘Apple Tree Lean Down’ – it had such an intriguing title but it’s author Mary E. Pearce was unknown to us. We both read it, loved it, leant and recommended it to friends, and then read the subsequent books published by Ms Pearce in the Apple Tree series. The other books were Jack Mercybright, The Sorrowing Wind and The Land Endures.

I don’t think I have read them since, but so many scenes remain vivid in my mind… and I haven’t used them at all, certainly not, but the ideas and the language has inspires me…

  • The miller trapped up to his waist in a cellar full of water, and only his young son knows he is there… however the boy has been told by his father to tell no-one where he is… the man survives by eating slugs (eugh!!) and when he is eventually rescued forever blames his son
  • The poor parent-less boy, supposed ‘simple’ who has to spend all day in the field, throwing stones at the birds, a living scarecrow – and the young farmer’s girl who feels sorry for him
  • The man who through various circumstances, is reduced to working as a labourer for an old farmer, digging and clearing ditches, getting rid of brambles and docks, and gradually brings barren fields into use

I must re-read these delightful and powerful stories… but who wrote them? Mary Emily Pearce was born in 1932 and died at the age of 74. She first worked in the Boots library – yes Boots the chemist’s used to have a library in their shops – my aunty used to spend her lunchtimes there, reading the books! Mary Pearce moved to Truro (still working in Boots’ library) and this is where she began to write. She moved again, this time to  Malvern, and in 1974 published Apple Tree Lean Down.

As well as the Apple Tree quartet, she wrote six other novels. She seems to have been a very private person, and now, unfortunately she seems to have vanished from popular  reading lists. If you do get the chance, do get copies – please let me know what you think! Maybe I won’t enjoy them as much as I reread them – sometimes that happens, but maybe the magic is still there!

It’s a bit chilly in here…

When we write we always try to convey our stories using not just what is seen, but what is experienced by the other senses, the sounds of the waves or the wind in the trees, the taste of the fog or stream from a volcanic vent, the smell of the air of a new place as you step out of the aeroplane door, the feel of the grasses on your skin as you walk through a meadow or the coat of a creature stroke… All of these add depth to our descriptions, and make the scenes we are trying to depict vivid.

However there are other senses we experience which might be linked to the five, for example the feeling of heat or cold… this is known as thermoception. We are unconsciously aware of it all the time, adjusting the temperature to what is comfortable almost without thinking about it – opening or closing windows, undoing or doing up buttons, putting on or taking off hats, scarves, woolly socks… But do we get our characters to do these things – or do we just describe them as feeling warm or cool – maybe adding details about the weather?

I admit it’s something I’ve not really properly thought about; however, without going to ridiculous extremes, I am going to try to bring this extra sense into my writing… I might try a little exercise where I write something specifically to try this… Recently I have had a character without a story, Gus, going walking on his own; so far there have been maybe half a dozen disconnected scenes, but I am beginning to feel a narrative coming on! As I pursue this I am going to consciously think about  thermoception and see if I can convey what Gus is experiencing as he wanders by the sea – possibly with an on-shore wind or a change in temperature as the tide turns…