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:

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.

How do you pronounce that?

To me my name, Lois, seems so easy – only four letters and pronounced almost how it’s spelt, Lo-iss; however over the years I’ve had all sorts of near misses with pronunciation – Loys, Lo-eese, Loss, Louise, Louis, Lewis, Lucy, Lose, Loose, Loos… I don’t mind, people try their best!

I don’t suppose it occurred to my parents that it would be difficult, my mum’s grandma was Lois, her sister had it as a middle name… And i guess, although I am really particular and careful with the names I give my characters, it didn’t really occur to me, as it didn’t to my parents, that some of my people would have problems.

In ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov‘, some people struggled with her surname – well, there is the famous Russian dramatist Anton Chekhov, which is  a different spelling of the same name – which would have been written in Cyrillic anyway, so it didn’t seem too difficult to me. Some people wondered why he had a ‘foreign’ name… well there are plenty of people born and bred in this country whose names might have originated from different places…

However the character in ‘Rosa‘ who people most struggled with, was Tyche Kane… she is one of those characters and I honestly can’t say where her name came from, it was just there, with her… Tyche was the daughter of Aphrodite and Zeus, of course. I pronounce her name Tie-key – and I guess she does too! However some of my readers struggled – Titch, Titchy, Tike, Tickey…

I pondered on this… but then thought, well, this is like real life and names – some people always have trouble with knowing how to say things, so I have just left it…

I was reminded of this when I saw the following:

… and here is a link to ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov’:

Fuggan and apple dickie

I was wandering through my recipe books as I often do, and came across something called fuggan… I’d never heard of it before, but it’s Cornish, and is a simple but no doubt delicious  pastry with currants or other dried fruit. When I looked it up to find out more about it I came across an Arthur Fuggan, living in Oldham which I know well as I lived there for many years.

Arthur was born in 1864, and in the 1891 census he was living with his sister Matilda, her husband, his mother, and a niece. Oldham was one of the most famous and important cotton-spinning towns in the nineteenth century and so it was so surprise to see that Matilda was a cotton speed tenter.  Her husband was a pianist and when I saw that Arthur was a self actor minder I thought that he must be something to do with being on the stage… However, the word ‘minder’ made me wonder as I know that was a job in the cotton industry. I was right; a self actor minder is someone who ‘minded’ a ‘self actor’, or “operates a self-acting spinning mule, patented by Richard Roberts, which could be operated by semi-skilled personnel.” A tenter is merely someone who tents or tends a spinning machine in a factory. Arthur doesn’t appear again in the census, not by that name anyway, but there seem to be families of Fuggans living in other countries, particularly the USA

Back to the fuggan…  when I looked further into the edible fuggans, it seems there is also a meat fuggan, which is just meat and pastry; as far as I can gather the pastry is made into a longish fat lump, split down the middle, the seasoned, finely chopped meat is put in and the pastry moulded round it . Somewhere else I found that it was usually pork and sometimes had potatoes as well. It is baked in the oven and I guess might taste quite nice and  a way I  would think of making a small amount of meat go between a family. Apparently, the top of it was patterned with cross-hatched marks, representing the fishing nets of the men who were out at sea, no doubt looking forward to their tasty fuggan when they got home!

And so apple dickie… Similar, it seems to a fuggan, a Cornish pastry with chopped apple mixed into it and baked!

Naughty words, and odd names…

I know I’ve written about this before, but it’s been on my mind today; I have a very dear friend who has made most useful and helpful observations on my books in the past, comments which have really enabled me to be more objective about my writing.

She has just started reading my latest novel, Lucky Portbraddon, and I know, I just know she is going to make at least two comments; one is going to be about unusual names, and the other s going to be about swear words.

I have written so many posts about names and choosing names,for actual children and for imaginary characters, so I’m not going over it all again except to say that I do a huge amount of research about names, and the names I use in my novels, trying to make sure they are the sort of names which might typically be associated with a particular person, or a particular age and class and with the sort of background I have given them. As I write I keep thinking of my friend and thinking about what she might say about my characters. Most of them in Lucky Portbraddon have perfectly ordinary names, Alex, James, Nick, Ruby, Alison, but one of the main characters is called Ismène. She was one of those characters who just arrived on the page with that name… I tried to call her Emma but it just didn’t work… Lo and behold, my friend has bought my book and the first thing she said was about the name!

Having my characters using ‘bad’ language is another thing,another thing which I don’t; take lightly. I never use bad language in front of my children… except in very trying circumstances when some naughty word escapes, and I don’t use it casually in my books. However, some characters do use obscene or foul language – just a we might come across people in real life who do. It would be unrealistic for them to say “Oh bother, oh blow, oh goodness gracious!”

I have heard recordings of soldiers from the first World War who use obscene/foul language… I’m sure people always have, so in Lucky Portbraddon, some times some of the characters swear at each other… and one character in particular swears almost every time he speaks. He is young, and I’ve noticed that young people do use a lot of words which older people might not approve of. I’m not using it – or rather, he‘s not using it to shock, it’s just the vernacular.

I know my friend is going to comment… and having her metaphorically sitting on my shoulder as I write does make me think very carefully about the language I use, even if my characters don’t!

Judge for yourself about the names I’ve chosen and the language I’ve used!


How do you say it?

My name, Lois is not very common, but it’s not that unusual either; Lois was St Timothy’s grandmother, and considering how ubiquitous Timothy is it’s strange that his granny’s name didn’t catch on too. I’m not complaining, I like to be unusual – although I wasn’t so keen when I was young and had to continually spell it for people and pronounce it for them.

You would have thought that Lo-is, was easy… but it’s mistaken for other actual names, male and female:

  • Louise
  • Eloise
  • Lucy
  • Lewis
  • Louis
  • Lulu
  • and even on one occasion, Laurence

As for spelling it, instead of taking the simplest four-letter spelling, I’ve had all sorts of offerings,as well as the above:

  • Loeese
  • Lorris
  • Lios
  • Loose/Lose
  • Lowes/Lowis/Lows
  • Lossie

So I have always tried my hardest with someone with an unusual name to say it as nearly correctly as I can – even if I have to ask them a couple of times, apologising for having such a poor ear. A difficulty comes when the name is written down, and may even be very familiar in the written form, but how do you say it? Where are the stresses, are there any hidden sounds, or sounds which disappear, or change from what you expect?

One of my son’s favourite names is Leonidas, most famously a Greek hero, born about 540BC and dying at around sixty in 480BC. I can’t recall ever having heard it spoken, but I’ve always pronounced it Layon-nid-as… My son insists it’s Leon-ide-ees…

I found this:

This man seems to say something like Leon-nithe-ass… and I’m sure he must be right!


Names, names, names and naming

One of the trickiest things about being a parent is giving a name to your child; what a responsibility! Balancing names you like and love, or have an attachment to maybe for family reasons, and names which suit the surname the child will have, which aren’t ridiculous (however much you like them) which are easy to spell and pronounce and haven’t got hilarious associations, and which the other parent of the child accepts.

Most people only have to chooses names a few times, but as a writer it’s a continual conundrum – or at least it is to me. Sometimes a character’s name just arrives with them, and stays… sometimes they have a name but I change it for some reason (a properly thought reason, not just a random whim) Sometimes I struggle and struggle to find a character’s name, trying out different ones which don’t quite fit.

My next novel is in the final stages of editing and should be published next month, so soon I will have to think about the cover, the blurb and all the other admin type things which go along with it. However, before that I must finish my editing, tying up all the now tiny loose ends… and finding a surname for my main character. The story is of a family called Portbraddon, so that’s easy – most of them have that as their surname.

The inspiration for that came from a tiny village in Ireland, on the north Antrim coast, the most pretty little fishing village you could imagine. Their first names, just arrived, Alex, Noah, Ruby, Alison, Nick, James… for some reason two brothers are Antoine and Eduardo – maybe they had a mother from some European country, and Tyrone – maybe his mother was Irish, or maybe she loved Tyrone Power the 1940’s actor?

The main character who becomes an observer for what happens in the complicated lives of the family is a woman, and after much trauma – on my part – her name is what it was from the beginning Ismène… she was briefly Emma, then Ismae, but now she’s back to Ismène. A French name, so when I came to find her surname that’s what I was thinking of… but what? Nothing springs to mind… I don’t want anything with an ‘s’; she told her ex-husband she didn’t want his surname Masson – “Ismène Masson, a poor attempt at a palindrome” she said, which infuriated him. At one point she thought she might be marrying into the Portbraddon family, and she liked that, Ismène Portbraddon…

So a French name without an ‘s’ ‘z’ or ‘ch’, and probably not beginning with ‘n’… I’m beginning to get a list, which will probably change…

  • Ismène Baudet
  • Ismène Bourdon
  • Ismène Cortot/Courtot/Courtial
  • Ismène Regnard
  • Ismène Rodin
  • Ismène Robillard
  • Ismène Verany
  • Ismène Thibaud/Thibault/Thibaut/Thibeault

In actual fact, her surname isn’t mentioned that much, but I just want to have it in my head – and in her head too!

By the way, my featured image is of another pretty place along the north Antrim coast, Ballintoy Harbour.

If you want to read my published e-books, here is a link: