I’ve been writing about writing over the last couple of weeks – yes, I know I’ve been writing about writing ever since I first write this blog, but I’ve been thinking about planning and target setting. Some writers – maybe many writers, plan their story in the most minute detail, writing biographies and back stories for their characters as well as family  histories and descriptions (even details which don’t appear in the actual finished work) Some writers have time-lines, and plot lines, and wall maps which look like a map of London underground, and do huge amounts of research about every aspect of the history and geography of the locations… Sometimes it takes a year or so before they are even ready to write!

I confess, I don’t plan… I have ideas… I have thoughts… I may even have some half-started pieces, or left over pieces from other stories. I do end up with all the other things, biographies, back-stories, timelines – except mainly they are in my head. In Radwinter, because unexpectedly it became a series, I do have actual written down family trees, but that’s mainly because they are genealogical mysteries!

Target setting… I generally have a vague idea these days about when a story might be finished, and from then a similarly vague idea of when it might be published, but with one exception, I don’t set myself a target to complete certain parts, or write a certain amount. The one exception is the National Novel Writing Month, an annual on-line challenge to write 50,00 words of a novel in one month. I have done it for the past four years, and completed it, but I have to admit last year was a struggle… but I did finish!

In the past, except for NaNoWriMo, I haven’t set myself a set number of words to write in a day, week, month etc. It hasn’t seemed necessary. However, just at the moment I have so many writing projects, that I confess, I am losing momentum with my latest novel, another Radwinter story, probably to be called ‘Saltpans’.

Then, two things happened… one of my favourite writers who I follow on Twitter, posts a daily word count. I suspect there are several reasons, none of which are to be boastful or brag; I guess it’s a way of motivating himself to write, knowing he’s going to be sharing the results, good or bad, and also to give himself a sense of achievement, and also to set himself a target… yes, target setting.

When I first started teaching, learning to be a teacher, I had to write lesson plans which might be why I so hate planning now. Aims, objectives, method (or some other word) what actually happened (can’t remember the word we used then) future development (or something like that. Our lesson plans were really simple, and as an aid to teaching for a learner, it was quite useful (I never thought I would ever say that!!) When I was a proper teacher, I still planned, of course I did, but my written notes were just jottings of what I was going to do. I knew what my aim and my objective was, it was obvious, that was why I was teaching it! All was well in the world of teaching (sort of) for many,many years, until suddenly I was told to start planning my lessons ‘properly’ again. I have to say I rebelled big time – I became a very naughty teacher (as opposed to a naughty student)

… but this is all off the point – except that detailed planning really puts me off and shuts down inspiration and spontaneity – and actually has the negative effect of making me feel anxious and irritated!

The second thing that happened was that I was cruising round the NaNoWriMo site as I often do, seeing what’s new:

… and I came across a ‘tracker’ device. It is not tied to the November challenge, or any of the other activities (writing camps for example) it is just a thing which allows you to set a target of however many words in however many days/week/months, you set the final date.Well, I thought to myself, well this is light – why don’t I have a go? So I set myself a two month target to try to write eight hundred, 800, words a day.

I mentioned last Tuesday that I was going to try and have a set word target, and that was before I discovered the NaNo goal tracker… so last Tuesday I started… and I am pleased to say it’s worked really well! I’m not sure I will do it for everything I write but the beauty of it is it’s just anonymous words not attached to any complete thing – so I could do a track for two weeks to finish off a particular part of something for example. The word count is averaged out – so if I don’t manage one day, if I’ve banked enough words from another day, I am still on target!

It’s like going to a fitness camp where you build up your writing muscles and stamina! So in seven days I wrote 6,350 words, which works out at just over 900 a day!!! Wow! I am so impressed with myself – and so pleased with getting back into the rhythm of writing!

By the way… it would be interesting to see how many words I write here every day!!

Here is a link to my e-books and my recently published paperback, Radwinter:

… and if you want to follow me on Twitter:


Salt, or sodium chloride is a mineral which we need to survive, and for most people in the modern western world our diet has more than enough – in fact sometimes too much salt! It’s not just that we add it to food we cook and food we eat, it is present in a lot of food which we buy, sometimes in surprising amounts in surprising food. We might expect it in savoury foods, but it’s also in a lot of sweet foods, and also in products we might not consider as food – toothpaste, medicines and pain killers.

But where does salt come from? Salt mines and the sea… I have been researching salt production from sea water because it features in my next novel, possibly called ‘Saltpans’ – which gives a big idea! From Roman times, if not even earlier, people obtained salt from the sea; in hot countries sea water was held in vast shallow lagoons which would evaporate leaving crystals of salt – it has been done for millennia and it is still done today. However, in our cooler climes, it was necessary to evaporate the water from the sea with human intervention. Sea water was contained in bucket pots, and some evaporation would occur, but then the salty liquid was pumped – sometimes using windmills, into salt pans, vast five meter square iron containers, the saltpans, which were heated, sometimes by coal, sometimes by wood, sometimes by charcoal to evaporate the remaining liquid. This as you can imagine put the pans under some stress as the salt was corrosive.

So salt is used in and on food, as a flavouring and as a preservative, but it has many other uses:

  • tanning
  • medicine
  • chemical production
  • the chlor-alkali industry
  • the soda industry
  • gas and oil exploration and drilling
  • textiles and dying
  • processing metals
  • paper manufacture
  • white rubber manufacture
  • soil additive
  • de-icer for roads
  • salting food
  • in the food industry in many, many ways
  • fire fighting
  • household cleaner
  • windows and prisms
  • … and no doubt much, much more!

It is an amazing product, and it’s no wonder the Romans used it in part payment of their soldiers. I will be sharing more on salt, as I learn more – and I hope to give you peeps into my new book, and what my character Thomas Radwinter discovers about salt production in his little town.

Here is a link to my other books featuring Thomas:




The boot repairer and the beatster

I’m making good progress with my latest Thomas Radwinter adventure, possible called ‘Saltpans’; there is an story-line which involves a zeppelin raid on the East Anglian coast in 1915 – which actually happened, it’s not imagined by me! Two airships, the L3 and the L4 bombed various places along the coast which resulted in the first deaths ever caused by an air-raid. Two people died in Great Yarmouth, Samuel Alfred Smith a fifty-three year old deaf boot repairer and seventy-two year old Martha Taylor who was a net repairer.

As usual when I saw their names I immediately began to wonder about who they were – Samuel never married but he has an elderly niece who was present when a blue plaque went up to commemorate the event and the deaths of Samuel and Martha. I found details of Samuel in the 1911 census for Yarmouth; he was described as a boot repairer, working with leather something soles – I can’t make out the ‘something’ on the original record, and it isn’t transcribed. Samuel – I wonder if he was called ‘Sam’ by friends and family – was living with his parents, Esther Harriet and William Pye Smith and his two nieces Elise Ade and Hilda Agnes. His father was a beach man – not sure exactly what that was, but Yarmouth was a fishing and shipping town and no doubt there were lots of smaller craft along the beach… but I’m not sure!

Here is what a beachman actually was:

Going back to the previous census, Sam is noted as being deaf, so maybe that came on when he was in his forties. In this census he is a shoe repairer – different from a boot repairer? Probably not. Now his father’s occupation becomes clearer, beach boatman it says. The information is the same for the previous census too – and again no mention of Samuel being deaf. The 1871 census shows us that he had some siblings, Agnes and William but no other details. William Pye Smith married Esther Agnes George in 1858; I can’t find an exact date of birth for him, it may have been about 1840, and he may have died in 1921, aged eighty-one… I can’t be sure!

Martha Taylor who also died in the air raid was a net mender; in the census of 1901 she appears a s a ‘beatster’… a what? Does it mean ‘beater’? But of what? Written faintly beside the entry it says ‘canvas’ – was she something to do with making canvas? A beater in a the cloth making industry was someone who trampled it in water as part of the fulling process… a tough and unpleasant job, is this what Martha did? No, no she didn’t, with a little more research it becomes clear that a beatster is to do with the net-making industry – which is what poor old Martha was still doing when she was killed by the bomb from the zeppelin.

Read up about beatsters:

In 1881, there was Martha, living with her sister Jane who was also a beatster, and brother James who was a shipwright, and their niece and nephew, William and Alice Humphrey. In 1871, Martha was living at home with her parents, John and Elizabeth, her baby niece and nephew, and three brothers and sisters – it gives no occupations for any of them.  ten years previous to that, Martha – noted as Mary Martha – was living at home with her parents and brothers and sisters; one brother is a blacksmith, her father and another brother were ship’s carpenters. In the first census, that of 1841, the Taylors have seven children living at home, including little Martha – here named Matilda. her father was a shipwright, two bothers were blacksmiths, another was a caulker.

Both Samuel Alfred and Martha Mary who died in the zeppelin raid were ordinary, hard-working people, from ordinary hard-working families – like so many of their friends and neighbours. They only found fame and are remembered today because they were the first victims ever of an air-raid.

Some of the information I have found here might make it into ‘Saltpans‘ in the meantime, if you haven’t read my Thomas Radwinter novels, here is a link:

The first in the series, Radwinter’, is available in paperback: