Don’t confuse your reader!

As you can imagine, as well as doing a lot of writing (I’ve actually set myself a 800 word a day target for the next six weeks – not counting what I write here!) I do a lot of reading, and I do a lot reading about writing. It was a mixture of these things which, on the suggestion of my fellow blogger from my other blog, the Moving Dragon, that I had a look at a site which runs a ninety day challenge – to write eighty-five thousand words (yes 85,000)

The site which is called 85k90.com, has lots of interesting and helpful articles and I came across one which really rang a bell with my writing teaching – from when I was a teacher to now when I lead several writing groups. It’s all about not confusing your readers – and in actual fact they are the most simple and obvious points – simple and obvious but very easy to forget!

Here are the five by Wendy Janes:

  1. Ensure names and descriptions of characters are consistent
  2. Differentiate your characters
  3. Handle time carefully
  4. Yes, write beautiful prose, but don’t show off your vocabulary
  5. Steer clear of using drama for the sake of drama

Simple aren’t they? Because I’ve been writing just about all my life, from almost as soon as I could hold a pencil, I’ve learned these lessons by making mistakes on all these tips. Now I really try to make sure I don’t create muddle with names – however, in my genealogical mysteries, because my main character is dealing with family history sometimes there is a repeat of names – in my fiction as in real life family trees. I do that deliberately and carefully – and sometimes there is a muddle – but that is part of the story and I very clearly (I hope) make sure the reader knows it’s an intended muddle! I also write things down in old diaries to keep track of the dates of when things happen in my stories – I want events to be sequential and to be possible!

I guess my ultimate challenge in trying not to confuse the reader with characters was my latest Thomas Radwinter mystery, ‘Earthquake‘, where there were thirteen Chinese girls at a little boarding school in the 1930’s, one of them was murdered and the other twelve were all suspects! Twelve teenage girls!! I had to work really hard to make sure my readers didn’t get in a muddle (I got a bit in a muddle at times myself, I have to say!

When I read point number four, I almost blushed… with a little embarrassment. Last year I published my e-book ‘Lucky Portbraddon‘; it was something I had written quite a while ago but I wanted to get it off my mental writing shelf and out into the world. I set to editing it, having not looked at it for about seven years… oh dear… When I wrote it I had been trying to write a literary book… some of what I had written was actually very good, but it just felt unnatural and not my style, and well… pretentious to be honest! I went through with a mighty editing scythe and whipped out all the pompous, ‘aren’t I clever, aren’t I a wonderful writer‘ bits. I slimmed it down by more than a third cutting out ‘the beautiful prose’ which was just ‘showing off’ my vocabulary. It was a lesson learned, I can tell you!

Here is a link to the article which is very appropriately entitled, ‘Avoid Confusing Your Readers’!

https://85k90.com/five-simple-editing-tips/

… and here is a link to the challenge site:

https://85k90.com/

…and here is a link to my slimmed down ‘Lucky Portbraddon’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/LUCKY-PORTBRADDON-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B01LWTVURP/ref=sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1502443608&sr=8-3&keywords=lois+elsden

… and my twelve suspect 1930’s murder mystery:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502444271&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is a link to our other Moving Dragon blog:

https://somersetwriters.wordpress.com

So many words a day

One of my favourite writers posts a daily word count on Twitter… I wonder if he has a target or  if he is just keeping track… Maybe I should ask him.

I don’t keep track of how many words I write, I just write! if I did keep track, would I also count the words I write here, or only the words I write for whatever story I am working on? At present I am writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, provisionally called ‘Saltpans’ and I don’t have a finish date in mind either. I think it should be finished in the first draft by halfway through September – I had hoped for the end of august, but no, other things have interfered. When there is no-one else involved like an editor or agent or publisher, there is only me to keep cracking the whip. Maybe best-selling writers have people to clean their houses, do the washing and ironing, take care of the garden, go shopping… well, I just have me and my husband. I’m not complaining, I’m fine with it, but that’s the way it is!

Going back to word count; the only time I do keep track of my words is November, the National Novel Writing Month, a thirty-day challenge to write a new novel. Does it help me, is it something I should adopt? Well it is actually quite stressful, especially if unavoidable things happen, like visitors, or days out or weekends away, but I do manage to maintain that 1,700 or so words a day for those thirty days… Well, I have for the last four years, but could I maintain it for more than thirty days… I am sure I could not. So would I be able to sustain a lower target, say a thousand words a day? Maybe – but how would I take account of the work I do re-writing, researching, writing background or support material which won’t go into the actual story?

Maybe instead of setting a target I should just keep track of my story word count – just so I know what progress I’m making… Maybe I will do that. Maybe I’ll start that today and report back next week, next Monday – no next Tuesday afternoon!

In the meantime, here are links to the books I started for the national Novel Writing Month, and finished and published:

2013 – Radwinter – published 2014:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-ebook/dp/B00IFG1SNO/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-1&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2014 – Raddy and Syl – published 2015:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADDY-SYL-RADWINTER-Book-3-ebook/dp/B00WAN0YD8/ref=sr_1_12?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-12&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2015 – Earthquake – published 2017:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1502118569&sr=8-2&keywords=LOIS+ELSDEN

2016 – And the River – to be published (2018/19)

 

Well, she looked vaguely familiar…

I’m sharing an extract from my latest e-book, the most recent tale of Thomas Radwinter. I started writing about Thomas several years ago, and as with all my books it was intended to be a stand alone novel. However, as a genealogical mystery, dealing with Thomas’s investigation into his paternal family, it seemed unbalanced – where was the maternal side? For the first time, I wrote a sequel ans then to my surprise there followed another story  which finished off the story of Thomas’s family.

This was not the end… Thomas had to uncovered the story of more recent family history, the story of the people who brought him up. All was revealed… except it wasn’t… From a single novel there has followed four more stories, and ‘Earthquake’ is the most recent.

Here is an extract from ‘Earthquake’. Thomas is waiting in a shopping centre for his wife:

I’ll always be grateful to this shopping centre; I have many happy memories attached to it of my early friendship with Kylie, and the first time I ever met Kenneil when he got lost in a Christmas crowd. I found him looking up at the big Christmas tree, eyes wide with wonder…
I smiled to myself at the memory as I stood with the twins waiting for Kylie and Cassie.
“Hello, Thomas.”
I glanced round and a short dumpy woman was addressing me; she looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. Was she someone I’d been to school with? Or someone I’d worked for when I was at the solicitors? I replied politely, asking how she was… whoever she was.
“I’m fine… and you?” she looked down at the twins who, bless them, were snoring their little socks off… not literally, they weren’t snoring at all and their little feet were snuggly inside their Babygro’s… which Geoff calls grow-bags which always makes him chuckle…
“Um… yes, yes… all well…” good grief, who was she, I was really struggling here… dark hair, pale face, glasses…
Luckily Kylie was striding towards me, Cassie on her hip waving a shoe at me. She would know who this woman was, Kylie I mean, not Cassie.
“Oh, here’s Kylie,” I said, greatly relieved I can tell you.
“Is that Kylie?” asked the woman in real surprise, as if she hadn’t recognized her
She was obviously someone from BK, Before Kylie, but she also obviously knew her. I’d only just said ‘yes’ when the woman said goodbye and hurried – well more than hurried, dashed off towards the lifts to the carpark. We always park in the cheaper outside carpark in an area destined to be a multi-plex or something. One of my favourite pubs, The Orange Tree is there and if we didn’t have the children I might have treated my wife to lunch today.
“What did she want?” Kylie asked, rather fiercely and snappishly I thought.
“She was saying hello… do you know her?”
Kylie looked at me as if I was mad or joking as Cassie stretched out, shouting ‘Shoe! Shoe! New shoe!’ absolutely perfectly… she’ll be chatting away soon and then I guess our ears will fall off because Kenneil doesn’t stop nattering either!
“Do I know her? Are you serious, Thomas?”
I took Cassie and admired her new shoes, no doubt bought at bargain price – Kylie is a wizard for saving money and getting bargains.
“Well, she looked vaguely familiar…”
I really though Kylie’s eyes were going to pop out of her head, and then she began to laugh at my perplexion… is there such a word?
“You really don’t know who you were talking to?” she asked between shrieks of hilarity. “You didn’t recognize her?”
“Well, no… she said hello, I said hello back, she asked how I was and I said ok and she said she was ok, then she asked if you were you… well, obviously you are, but she seemed surprised to see you…”
“It was Rebecca!”
“Rebecca who?” Do I know any Rebeccas? There was a girl in my class at school…
“Your ex…”
“My ex what?”
She had to walk away for a moment to recover herself, she was in such hysterics… people were looking, but they were smiling… Kylie came back to me, still giggling… and told me to my great shock and surprise, that the dumpy woman was my ex-wife, Rebecca, my ex-wife!!
Good grief!!! Good grief that it was her and double good grief that I didn’t recognize her… We were married for nearly ten years and had been together before that… I can’t believe that I didn’t recognize her, good grief!!

If you want to know more about why Rebecca decided to stop to chat to Thomas, and what she asked him to do for her, then here is a link to my e-book ‘Earthquake – you will also find out how Thomas solved the  mystery of who killed an eleven year-old girl nearly ninety years ago and what happened to Viv the very annoying verger:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501886735&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

… and here is a link to the series:

 

 

My name is Shsh Shshsher…

With all the excitement of the launch of my first paperback, which is also the first story of my Radwinter series, I have been a little neglectful of the most recent e-book which I published at the beginning of April this year. That book was the latest in the series, and is called ‘Earthquake‘. My main character Thomas Radwinter conducts several investigations during the course of the novel, one of which is for a new client… in this extract, the new client rings him up:

Even so, mornings are hectic, and the priority is to get Kylie to work and Kenneil to school and then the little ones and I can sort out my work. So it was today, a proper paid work day today, and the twins were at the nursery, Cassie was with her cousins, John’s children, Julia and Janek, and I settled down to make the most of my day and earn some money.
I have to be very strict with myself, which is much more difficult than you might think, because particularly when I’m doing someone’s family tree I get terribly side-tracked by interesting names and strange occupations. I have such a busy life, housework, cooking, washing, shopping, John’s allotment, looking after our garden, taking Cassie and Kenneil swimming, seeing my brothers and their families…
So I was concentrating completely on the ins and outs of some legal papers for a client and didn’t register my phone was ringing. I answered it rather more loudly than I meant to and there was silence then the sound of laboured breathing…
Good grief, don’t say I’ve got a heavy-breather… Hello? I said rather firmly and sternly ready to finish the call and block the number.
“Good morning… is that Mr. Radwinter….” And the voice, man or woman I couldn’t tell, faded away, then started again. “My name is Shsh Shshsher…”
“I’m sorry, you are?”
“Shsh Shshsher… A friend at the golf club suggested you might be able to help me…”
When I was working as a proper solicitor in a practice in Strand, I had a dear old gentleman who always asked for me to assist in his matters and business, usually changing his will which was a bit of a hobby of his. When our firm amalgamated with another and moved their head office to Castair, I was effectively given the sack; however my kindly old gentleman insisted I continue to handle his affairs and more than that, recommended me to a lot of his friends at the golf club. The golf club gang, as I call them, are my best clients, and are nearly all nice people and also quite wealthy.
As well as the usual conveyancing, enduring powers of attorney, wills and even a couple of divorces, they have asked me to help them on several intriguing ‘investigations’ as I mentioned above, the missing woman, the Moroccan and the Tibetan Lama.
“I will try my best Mr. Shshsher…” I couldn’t ask him again for his name, having tried to work it out three times. “Perhaps we could arrange a time where we could meet, or maybe I could call on you… what sort of business do you wish to conduct?”
There was another yawning pause before Mr. Shshsher replied that he would have to discuss that with me…  He wasn’t sure I could help, he wasn’t sure anyone could help, but his friends had recommended me highly…
He gave me his address, a place I didn’t know over on the other side of Strand, and we agreed I should call the next day at eleven.

If you want to know what the mysterious assignment is, and whether Thomas manages to undertake it successfully, here is a link to ‘Earthquake’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501356444&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

and in case you haven’t yet got a copy of my paperback, Radwinter, here is a link for you:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-Lois-Elsden-x/dp/1521415196/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1501356444&sr=8-1&keywords=lois+elsden

The Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen…

In my next Thomas Radwinter book, which maybe called Saltpans, Thomas begins to investigate his wife’s family history… here is a sneak preview…

Kylie’s family, the Ramseys were all sailors, mariners, fishermen… occasionally one was a master mariner, or joined the navy and moved away, some sons went off to work in the brick factories,   the daughters were in service or worked in shops or milliners, their work may have been ordinary but they always worked, census after census that I went through there they were, grafting… Kylie has it in her blood because she never stops working either! I went through the local work house records and didn’t find a single Ramsey; when I was researching the Radwinters they had impoverished lives from time to time and had to apply for poor relief, or actually ended up in the work house… grim times…
Patrick Ramsey married Marie Lesesne Finch in 1930,… and I drew a blank. Plenty of Finches, loads of them but I couldn’t find a Marie Finch who married Patrick Ramsey… This happens; you have to get used to the apparently most simple search being confounded. Patrick Ramsey married Marie Finch in 1930, that I do know here it is, and she died in 1995, aged 90, here is her death certificate, and it says she was born in Yarmouth – not Yarmouth on the isle of Wight which we visited a couple of years ago, but Great Yarmouth in Norfolk on the East coast.  However, I’m blowed if I can find her birth… I have a little ponder, and then look her up on the 1911 census; she’s not there either unless her birth date is wrong.
There are ten Marie Finches, one is only a year old, so I guess our Marie could have been born in 1910 not 1905, but why would there be a mistake like that… Hmmm… Well her unusual middle name Lesesne makes me think that it might have been her mother’s maiden name so I look up a Miss Lesesne (or maybe Mademoiselle Lesesne) marrying a Mr. Finch…
…and here she is Marie Lesesne married Anatole Finch. Here he is Anatole Finch… what a name… surely another French name?  Anatole Finch was Marie’s husband not her father, her first husband, and he died in  1929… Poor Marie… I’ll explore Anatole some other time, because he isn’t actually related to us, but I’ll go back and look at Marie Lesesne and find her family; that should be easy, she was born in Yarmouth and I should be able to find her now I know her birth name wasn’t Finch, that was her first married name…
Except she still doesn’t appear in the births… well maybe she was called something else, when she was born, Mary or May or Margaret not Marie, and I do find a couple of children, Marguerite and Madeleine, in the births, but they don’t appear in the 1911 census… although Marri Lesesne does! Good grief! Why didn’t I just check her in the census straight away! And there she is in Norfolk, born in great Yarmouth she would be in Norfolk, aged six, but wait a bit, she’s not with her family… what? I can’t make this out.
She’s on her own in 1911, she’s only six and she seems to be in some sort of institution! I’ve found Marie, among a load of other people, mainly adults, although there are a few children, but what is amazing, they are nearly all French!
Here it says that Marie is French and she was born in Menton, not Great Yarmouth! However that’s near where she was living in 1911, living in Norfolk! I look up Menton which it turns out is on the Mediterranean, right next to Italy and not far from Monaco.
I have a quick look on Wikipedia and skip through the history of the little town, nick-named the Pearl of France. Apparently its name was first noted in 1262 and then was ruled by the princes of Monaco, and how wonderful! – It ceded from Monaco in revolt against a lemon tax! A tax on lemons, good grief! And one little town breaks away from its rulers! A lemon tax! I tell Kylie, and she pokes me in the ribs and says, honestly, Thomas!

© Lois Elsden 2017

All the details here are a total fiction, I have made every one of them up; if by some coincidence these names and dates seem to relate to real people, please tell me – it’s an absolute accident and I will change it right away!

If you haven’t yet caught up with my Radwinter genealogical mysteries, here’s a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/RADWINTER-5-Book-Series/dp/B072HTG366/ref=sr_1_9?ie=UTF8&qid=1499777022&sr=8-9&keywords=lois+elsden

When nothing happens

Like many people I’m on Linkedin (which for a quite a while, for no reason, I thought was called Lindlekin ) I rarely use it at all but occasionally I get notifications and today it was from a writing group, and it was a question “When nothing happens – Do you like stories that have ambiguous endings or stories in which not much happens? For example, instead of being plot-driven, a story can be character-driven?”

Now that’s a very good question! I actually don’t like stories where nothing much happens… I’ve written before about my reading habits, and how I think in some ways I am not as good a reader as I used to be – although recently I’ve had string of successful ‘reads’, so maybe I’m improving! I used to be able to wade through anything and persevere to the end… now ‘when nothing happens‘ I tend to give up! A friend in our reading group loves beautifully written books, loves the language of them… but I’m afraid I want some story line, I want some sort of action! I don’t mean that there has to be a punch up on every page or a chase or a romantic development, but I want to feel as if there is some sort of progression.

It’s the same in my writing, I like to have some sort of progression, people change, relationships begin or end, events occur – unexpected, unlooked-for, sometimes unwanted! I guess I like plots! Characters are everything, and setting, but there must be a plot… and endings… satisfactory endings are vital! A satisfactory ending is not necessarily a closed, completed ending, it can be open or ambiguous – but it must conclude the proceedings! I have a very good friend who very kindly tells me honestly what she thinks of my stories, and I always take great heed of her suggestions and advice; on one occasion she commented that an ending (of Flipside) was too brief – everything was wrapped up and concluded too hastily and although the mystery was solved, the characters were left sort of hanging about! So in the next book I worked very hard on the ending – and I’m delighted to say she approved!

Just to briefly look at the endings of my novels…

  • Farholm – the puzzle is solved, the mystery revealed, but for the characters there will continue to be difficulties after the conclusion – grieving will continue, an unhappy relationship struggles on, and another relationship will never even start
  • The Stalking of Rosa Czekov – the stalker is revealed, but  a new relationship based on a rather precarious foundation begins on almost the last page
  • Loving Judah – a resolved ending, but I hope I have pointed the reader towards realising there will be a rocky road ahead for two of the characters
  • The Double Act – a complete conclusion – but when I came to do the final edit, I had to add an extra bit – an epilogue I guess you could call it. The dramatic action had ended in a flourish, but the reader needed a come-down, so I added a final piece when the two main characters are visited by the investigating police officer some months later; readers can imagine an optimistic onward journey, I hope
  • night vision – all the secrets are revealed, and the main character is overwhelmed with happiness and relief, but I hope the reader will see that in actual fact, her optimism might be misguided
  • Lucky Portbraddon – for some of the Portbraddon family, their lives seem settled and hopeful at the end of the book; for others there are unresolved issues, but I hope it is a satisfactory ending since the characters all seem in a position to deal with an unsettled future
  • The Radwinter stories – the first novel, Radwinter, was supposed to be a stand-alone story with a complete conclusion and a short epilogue to pull everything together; it could have remained like that but I realised only half the story was told, and so a sequel appeared… and then it seemed somehow a series emerged. I hope each one is also stand-alone, and I try to tie up the different narrative strands satisfactorily

So to answer the original question – I don’t like books where nothing happens, I don’t mind an ambiguous ending, but it must be a satisfactory ending!

Here is a link to my books:

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

The story of a house

I first met my friend Andrew Simpson, a very long time ago when we started at Manchester Polytechnic together. You can read his fascinating blog which covers so many different subjects here:

https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk

As you can see from the title of his blog, it is mainly about the town of Chorlton-cum-Hardy, in south Manchester but now part of the city, its boundaries long swamped by the metropolis. One of the series of stories I particularly enjoy is his history of the house he lives in now on Beech Road. He first moved in, as I did, when a friend of ours owned it; I’m not sure how long I lived there, two or three or maybe four years, I can’t quite remember now. It’s a wonderful house, a magical house, a large end terrace property built in about 1914 – you will have to read his blog to find the exact dates!

Life moves on, and so did we – I moved to London, then back to Manchester when I stayed with Andrew in another Chorlton house for a couple of months before moving into my own place. Life moves on again, and Andrew was able to buy the Beech Road house – and he lives there still!

Andrew is now a much admired and respected local historian, and has written about Chorlton-cum-Hardy, and Manchester on his blog, and in several books which you can find in your local bookshop if you live in Manchester, or on Amazon if you live anywhere else in the world! One of his series of blogs is about the Beech Road house and its history, charting it’s actual construction by Joe, who continued to live there until his death, to our brief few years there, and now Andrew’s own personal and family history of the lovely old place.

                                     1975

I think these stories which reflect the social and historical situation of Chorlton as well as the personal stories of the inhabitants of the house, would make a great book – a biography of a house! Here is one of Andrew’s stories from a month ago… a mystery!

https://chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk/2017/06/one-hundred-years-of-one-house-in_18.html

In my Radwinter stories, the main character Thomas looks into the past too, finding his own family history but also doing genealogical research for other people – and these investigations  are part of the narrative! Thomas’s family has grown somewhat, and it has occurred to me that realistically a modern family of seven could not live in the small house they occupy – yes, I know in the past people with large families lived in very cramped circumstances – and Thomas reflects on this, and I also know that today, many people still live in cramped and overcrowded conditions. However, Thomas and his wife are beginning to think they should move house…

I have a house in mind for them, based on a beautiful house I know in real life (never been in it, just admired it from outside) I think the move will have to take place in another novel – if I write one, but it struck me that Tomas, like my friend Andrew, could write the history of the house – do its genealogy! My imaginary house’s history would be totally fictional, but I would base it on proper research so that it is believable to the reader.

If you are interested in Andrew’s fascinating book about Chorlton, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Story-Chorlton-Cum-Hardy/dp/0752489666/ref=sr_1_cc_1?s=aps&ie=UTF8&qid=1499592857&sr=1-1-catcorr&keywords=andrew+simpson+chorlton

… and he has also written books on Manchester and the Great War, and other illustrated books about the city.

If you haven’t yet read Thomas Radwinter’s stories, or my other novels, here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=node%3D65&field-keywords=lois+elsden&rh=n%3A65%2Ck%3Alois+elsden