The handsome vicar and the runaway child

I didn’t realise four years ago when I took on the National Novel Writing Challenge that the 50,000 words i was attempting to write would become the start of the next six books… I began to tell the story of Thomas Radwinter and his three brothers, Marcus, Paul and John, of the ups and the down of their lives and their families. As well as their own lives, the stories also include ‘investigations’ which Thomas undertakes, seemingly harmless research into genealogical mysteries which lead him into all sorts of difficulties.

This is the beginning of the third novel, and here it seems as i the family are united and happy and all will go well for them… However, Thomas’s investigations into his own history cause upset, and his investigations into a woman who just disappeared from a busy street lead him into danger…

But this is the start – a very happy day for Thomas:

I looked up at the vicar standing on the steps of the nave, and he smiled down at me. He’s very handsome this vicar, and in fact he’s my brother. All my brothers are handsome men, and Marcus, the Reverend Marcus Edward Radwinter, is no exception; he has a strong angular face, and today his wild eyebrows and bushy beard and flowing grey mane of hair have been neatly trimmed. The most arresting thing about him is his eyes, his piercing blue Radwinter eyes, and as I looked up at him, they crinkled in a smile.

He glanced down the aisle and I looked at my other brother John, standing beside me; he was beaming too, and well he might. He is engaged to the most beautiful woman, Justyna, and they were expecting their baby in three weeks’ time. We’d had a few jokes about maybe it would come early and arrive today, and then there could be a christening as well as a wedding here in my brother’s church.

As well as a wedding… not John’s wedding, but mine. Yes, today I was marrying Kylie…

A little brown face peeped at me round John’s shoulder, my little man Kenneil. He was very excited, I can tell you, but being very good… so far. He looked so cute in his little kilt; my nephew Tom was holding him in his arms. John was my best man and Tom and Kenneil were my groomsmen…

“Ahem,” Marcus nodded towards the church doors and I realised that my other nephew, Django, was playing the bridal march; he and his band had been vamping some incidental music while we waited.

“Can I look?” I whispered.

“Of course you can,” Marcus replied, he looked so happy.

I turned and there, there was my beautiful bride.

Kylie was wearing a white and gold dress and she looked like an Aztec goddess… well, actually I don’t know if the Aztecs had goddesses, but she looked exotic and wonderful and she shimmered as she walked towards me, her arm resting lightly on that of my brother Paul who was escorting her. He looked very handsome, I thought once that he looks like a silver lion; he has that strength, that confidence and pride in his family.

Kylie’s hair was drawn back from her face and had been woven into plaits with golden ribbons and jewelled beads threaded through… She had feathers in her hair, gold feathers, and her veil came down just to her nose, and there were little sparkly stars on it. Behind her I could see her three bridesmaids, my nieces Paula and Sarah, and Kylie’s sister Reneasha.

Kylie’s dress was short at the front, not too short, and her long elegant legs strode out… in a way she looked quite fearsome… but these days I think she looks magnificent with that determined expression, not terrifying as I used to think…

There was fumble beside me, and I heard Tom say, “Kenneil, come back! Oh, sorry Thomas!”

Kenneil had somehow escaped and was running down the aisle to his Mama. We‘d gone to the suit shop to hire suits for John and Tom and he‘d spotted a kilt and although he has no known connection to anything Scottish, he is in fact three-quarters Tobagoan, he insisted…and he is so adorable, I just gave way. I could hear the congregation all go ‘aah’ as he sped towards Kylie.

Her face broke into the widest smile and she bent to him, and Paul leant over and picked him up and carried him on his arm as they continued to process down the aisle, Kylie and me grinning at each other…

I had never felt so confident and sure of myself in all my life; this really was the start of a new and wonderful adventure with my family beside me!

Here is a link so you can find out more, what family secrets Thomas uncovered and whether he found teh vanished woman:

Starting with the village of Radwinter…

It’s exactly a week since I galloped my way towards and finally over the finish line of the National Novel Writing Month challenge. I have to admit that the week before I was looking at the possibility of not making it… I’d written every day but just not enough and I was very behind… however, I managed it, and completed it with an hour to spare and 53 words over the fifty thousand.

The story I was writing this time was about a mystery woman with a concealed past who starts living in shared accommodation in a small seaside town. This was my fifth year of taking up the challenge, and thank goodness, the fifth year of completing it… and as I finished I thought back to the other challenges.

The first year I did NaNo, 2013, I began a story which had been swirling round in my head for some time about a family of four brothers; I had a name for them, Radwinter, but little more. The story almost wrote itself, and I passed the 50,000 word eleven days early and went on to write over 73,000 words!

It wasn’t just my NaNo success with Radwinter, there was something about the characters, the situations, their dilemmas and difficulties reaching back into the past which intrigued me and if I had known on 30th November 2013 that I would write another five stories about them I would have been amazed, and no t a little disbelieving… Believe it or not, although Book VI is not quite finished yet, I began the opening scene for Book VII last night!

Radwinter is the story of a couple and their marriage, and a man and his family, and the history of that family explored through genealogical research…

Here is an excerpt from that first novel when Thomas Radwinter is finding out the origins of his family name:

I thought I’d start with Radwinter village… yes, I know, there are no Radwinter connections, but it just seems odd that our unique name is the same as a place… or maybe it is just a coincidence, or maybe Radwinter is a corruption of something else…

In Radwinter there is the Church of Saint Mary the Virgin and on the history site there are some wonderful photos of the reredos within the church, but it was bought and put there in the 1880’s; the church itself is over seven hundred years old. I’d like to go and visit and see it for myself; I’m not religious but I do like visiting churches… I wonder if Marcus would be interested as he’s a vicar? As well as the church it mentions chapels… are they different? I don’t know much about religion, despite Marcus… Primitive Methodists… what are they? Baptists… I really don’t know.

Looking at the history of the village it seems as if it was a busy place at one time; I really would like to go and see what is there now. According to the website there were blacksmiths, and many different shops including two butchers and two bakers (no mention of candlestick makers… stop it Thomas, don’t be silly… Rebecca is always telling me off for my childish sense of humour) there were sweetie shops, a fish mongers, general stores and even a tobacconist, and many different craftsmen such as cobblers and tailors and lots of other businesses.

No surprise that there are pubs, including the Plough and the Red Lion, and windmills… I guess it’s a farming area… Essex, that’s a farming county, isn’t it, and isn’t it by the sea too? I don’t know anything about Essex, apart from it being an overspill area for London, but it can’t all be like that. I’ve never been there… maybe I should look at a map… There were four windmills, it says… definitely a farming community, and a prosperous one too. Didn’t Constable paint pictures in Essex, or have I imagined that?

I’m onto the history page… Neolithic skeleton, bronze Celtic warrior, Roman roads and coins… medieval tile kiln and fishponds…  once it was Great Radwinter and Little Radwinter, perhaps that’s me, little Radwinter… 1066, Doomsday, a lord of the manor named Frodo… what? Really?

This page also tells me the village is near Saffron Walden and on the road to Haverhill, and on the River Pant… I must look at a map.

Onto the Radwinter Records page… a war memorial with no Radwinters on it, but how sad to see the same names cropping up, three men called Andrews, five men named Halls,  two Potts, two Ruses, three Swans and two Thakes… so sad… I don’t think I’m old but I bet they were younger than me… maybe some of them as young as my nephew Django… it doesn’t bear thinking about.

Radwinter seems an interesting place… I really want to visit… I wonder if Rebecca would like to go for a weekend there… probably not, she likes shopping and going on holiday to somewhere sunny.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my Radwinter stories:

An expert… an expert what?

Thinking about the ’73 challenge (writing a blog for each of 73 random topics or subjects) and working my way through it in the order of the list rather than randomly picking out favourite topics, I have arrived at ‘Expert Advice’. The list was one a friend found on another blog with these suggestions for different types of blogs which could be written, or which were written, it wasn’t suggesting that everyone could write all of them – but that’s exactly what we are attempting to do.

So expert advice… what have I expertise in? I’ve had to really puzzle over this…

  • writing – yes… but I’ve written so many of the blogs about writing and if as my friend and I hope we manage to gather these seventy-three together and publish them as a collection, then it would be a little boring… wouldn’t it?
  • cooking and baking… I’m a home cook and baker, and although I do share recipes and talk about what I make, I am definitely not an expert!
  • blogging… well, as you know, I do blog, but I am not an expert…
  • teaching… that was in my former life… it’s a long time since I did any, and I’m not sure any expertise I did have is still relevant in today’s education system
  • ….um….
  • ….er….
  • … pubs?

My daughter was just passing my room and I asked her what she thought… She suggested writing… and baking… and teaching… and blogging…

I might do or have done all these things, but I either never have been or am no longer an expert in any of them.

How about if I talked to my husband… he is an expert in lots of things:

  • drumming
  • making music
  • different genres of music
  • popular music in the past
  • ships and boats and their history
  • art – doing it, teaching it, knowing about it…
  • model making
  • beer

…and then my daughter said an interesting thing… If I was thinking about giving advice as an expert in some field, why didn’t I write about my experience as an older mum? I was an older mum when my children were born, I still am (an even older  mum of course) now they are adult and independent… What a great idea! Yes, that’s what I will do… I will write and share my thoughts over the next couple of days!

… another ticked off the 73 list!

… and here is a link to my other writing, my paperbacks and e-books:

2017 NaNo update… 50,053…

So the national Novel Writing Month draws to a close, and although I fell behind and at points thought I might never catch up… I did!! I managed to write 50,053 words during the month of November.

I am now going to put my story to one side for a while , and finish off some other things, but I will come back to it and I will finish it!

Here is something to celebrate with:

Day thirty of NaNoWriMo…

The last day is here, the last day of the challenge… the target day which once seemed a distant speck on my writing horizon and then gradually began to loom… On November 1st I took up the online challenge to write 50,000 (yes, fifty thousand words) this month. This is my fifth year of doing it, and to be honest, although my writing has gone well, really well, this year it has been a struggle. It’s been a struggle because November has been a very busy month and lots of quite ordinary but nice things have come between me and my writing.

This is what I wrote here on the first day of the challenge, reporting back under a post tile ‘Went the day well?’

I was all set up with what I was going to do; I have a character called Gus and I’ve written about him several times, and I decided I wanted to pull his story together and NaNoWriMo seemed the ideal vehicle for my attempt. So… I had a busy day yesterday, lots of things happened, some planned some unexpected, some good, some really not good at all.
I sat down first thing and opened a new document… and blank… Gus had wandered off… he obviously didn’t think he was ready to share his story. There would be no point in forcing it I knew, that way difficulty lies! I have so many other things I am doing at the moment, probably too many, that I knew Gus would prove recalcitrant and reluctant.
I did have a back-up plan; after I finish writing my novels quite often the characters’ stories continue in my head and I sometimes actually write down what happens next – this doesn’t develop into a sequel, but some of the ideas might lead to something new (what happened to the characters in ‘Farholm’ resulted in an idea which developed into ‘The Stalking of Rosa Czekov‘) However, when I tried to find a couple of these ideas I wanted to pursue I couldn’t locate them; I have an awful feeling that when I was doing my mass clear out and tidy that they went into the recycling bin)
So at eleven o’clock last night, I addressed the empty page. I started something completely new, something which had just been a vague idea floating around… I don’t know whether it will work, but it’s started and I managed to write 1076 words before midnight!!

Well, I’m thankful that the vague idea took off with a mind of its own! So by Day 3 I was into the swing of it, but still very much feeling my way and not really knowing where it would all go… This is what I wrote here:

This is the gist of it so far:
A mystery woman with an undisclosed past has got a tiny flat in a small seaside town (my imaginary Easthope) it’s told from her point of view at the moment and I hope the reader (well, if it gets that far) will be wondering ‘why is she here?’, ‘why is she living in such a tiny place?’, ‘what’s she running away/hiding from’?, ‘is she escaping an unhappy relationship?’ etc, and then the reasons are gradually revealed. The woman is doing a lot of writing which is shared with the reader, and it’s about her past, but she talks about ‘the city’ rather than naming it, and ‘the river’ etc so even in her writing she is circumspect…
On day 1 she didn’t have a name – that’s how new the whole idea is! Day 2 and I knew her name was going to begin with a B or an M… and in the end it is M – Milla. I am a little behind – not quite making the 1667 per day = 3,334 words in two days – I am up to 3,152, so not too far off target, especially so early on in the challenge when I haven’t got into my stride yet.
Today which is Day 3 I am going to write some of her writing, which I think will be a memoir of when she was a student in the anonymous city…

By day 4 (in Milla’s story as well as mine) things were moving on, but slowly… This is what I wrote here about my progress:

On the first day a mysterious woman appeared, recently moved into a bedsit – or what is now called a flatlet apparently, and it was only on day two that her name was revealed, Milla. It has become apparent that she is trying to build a new life… and yesterday, day four, she became involved with someone who might later become a friend.
This makes it sound as if I am reading a story, rather than writing one… well, sometimes it is almost like that! A surprise on every page, a new character, a new scene, a new difficulty!
The new character takes a tumble…
She set off back to the steps to leave the beach. An elderly man had crossed the road, pulled by his dog, maybe the old man and dog she had exchanged greetings with a couple of days ago.
It happened almost in slow motion – whether the pulled, eager to run on the beach, whether the man tottered or slipped on the sandy steps, whether he had some sort of seizure but he fell, lurching towards her and she sprang to try and catch him but he went sideways. The dog dragged him, and then the man’s hand released the lead and he went down, the side of his head hitting the stone with an audible ‘crack’!
Milla went down on her knees beside him, calling out something to him, something silly, inane, panicky are you alright? Are you ok? Don’t worry, I’m here!

I thought I would write a daily update here… I haven’t had time for that! It wasn’t until Day 12 that I managed to write another NaNo blog:

So… how has NaNo been going? I’ve mentioned that I intended to write about a long-standing character in search of a story… however he has wandered off, and instead I am writing about Milla who has come to my imaginary town of Easthope. She is a woman with a mystery past, which has not yet been revealed to the reader. Over the twelve days I have been writing about her, her character is gradually developing, especially as she is coming into contact with other people – the other people who live in the house where she’s renting a room, people in a café where she’s been working part-time, other people from around the town.
She has created what amounts a set of runes, which she is ‘reading’ each day, by taking one at random and bearing it in mind as the day progresses. In order to do this I do have a made up set of images which I am randomly picking out – so in a way the writing of the story is guided by chance. I have got to a point now, where I feel as if something has to happen… there has to be some action and movement to keep the reader engaged because otherwise this will just seem like the diary of an uneventful life – and even if there is some strange secret in Milla’s past, by the time it is revealed the reader won’t be reading any more!
Another thing has struck me which I must have a good think about – if I have time to think as I pound away trying to reach my target… Milla’s character. To be sure she is mysterious, but she is gradually changing into a stock female character without an actual character – she has no personality!
So that’s my task for the next few days, to discover her character, and make sure she is interesting and different!

So day 30… the last day… and 2,938 words to write… I’d better get going!

Three of my last four NaNo journeys made it into print… here is a link to all of my books:

Does anyone still read Henry Miller?

This is something I wrote a couple of days ago:

Does anyone read Henry Miller any more? I first read him when I was too young to appreciate or properly understand, along with my friends for the ‘naughty bits’. In those days the only salacious imagery was what we imagined (not very well) from what we read; this was before the internet, before sharing anything other than actual photos or actual books was all there was.

Miller was an American writer born in 1891 and lived until 1980… this is what Wikipedia says about his amazing and varied life:

Henry Valentine Miller… was an American writer, expatriated in Paris at his flourishing. He was known for breaking with existing literary forms, developing a new sort of semi-autobiographical novel that blended character study, social criticism, philosophical reflection, explicit language, sex, surrealist free association, and mysticism. His most characteristic works of this kind are Tropic of Capricorn, The Colossus of Maroussi, The Time of the Assassins, and The Books in My Life, many of which are based on his experiences in New York and Paris (some of which were banned in the United States until 1961), adding Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch while finally residing in Big Sur, California. He also wrote travel memoirs and literary criticism, and painted watercolours.

His rules for writing may not be totally applicable for all of us – we are own writers and although we can learn from others and other great writers, we still have to find our best (and sometimes only) way of working which suits our own lives.

Anyway… here are Henry’s rules:

  1. Work on one thing at a time until finished.
  2. Don’t be nervous. Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand.
  3. Work according to the program and not according to mood. Stop at the appointed time!
  4. When you can’t create you can work.
  5. Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers.
  6. Keep human! See people, go places, drink if you feel like it.
  7. Dont be a draught-horse! Work with pleasure only.
  8. Discard the program when you feel like it but go back to it the next day. Concentrate. Narrow down. Exclude.
  9. Forget the books you want to write. Think only of the book you are writing.
  10. Write first and always. Painting, music, friends, cinema, all these come afterwards.

… and here are some observations…

  • other great writers juggled many writing balls in the air at the same time – not that we are necessarily great writers (yet) but maybe it suits us for different reasons to have different projects. However, dipping from one thing to another and never properly forming or  finishing anything probably isn’t a recipe for writing (or any other) success… unless you are extraordinary (which you probably are!)
  • working calmly… this isn’t always possible for everyone – if writing is squeezed into a busy life full of work and family commitments, calm might not e the way you feel – maybe focused is a word you could substitute?  Sometimes agonised writing produces great results – joy sometimes come when the page or piece is finished! … and recklessly – yes – go for it! Just write!
  • working to the programme… working to a timetable? It doesn’t suit all writers! Larks and owls, larks and owls…
  • ‘can’t create? then work‘ – if you come to a dead-end, the well of inspiration is dry, then go back to what you are writing, to what you have written and get into that. editing, checking, rewriting – it’s all part of the process and might start the tap running again!
  • Cement a little every day, rather than add new fertilisers… a perfect metaphor
  • I’ve mentioned elsewhere the difficulty and sterility of working in a garret… even if your novel is some dystopian, futuristic fantasy you can still get inspiration and more from getting out into the real here and now world
  • sometimes you need draught-horses… but even draught horses work better if they have an occasional gallop round a field and paddle in a river
  • I don’t know the Programme Miller refers to – maybe it’s his own schedule, maybe he’s teaching and referring to the syllabus, maybe he and his audience were on a challenge like NaNo (see below) However, as with his other advice above, getting into the real work, having some playtime, restores and refuels!
  • You can’t be anything other than yourself when you write – even if you are writing as another character – you are essentially you, nor Miller, not Rowling, not Austen not whoever is your favourite writer – you write as you, be true!
  • you may not have a choice over this, commitments for ordinary people are commitments… however don’t let painting, music, friends, cinema, be an excuse for not writing

© Lois Elsden 2017

NaNO – the National Novel Writing Month – a November challenge to write 50,000 in thirty days

here is a link to my books:

The Heath Robinson onion skinning machine

I haven’t kept up to date with my NaNo diary here – I had imagined that as I worked my way through the 50,000 words which make up the National Novel Writing Month challenge, I would be adding a commentary here on my progress. I didn’t necessarily think it would be a daily thing, but I certainly thought I would keep up to date with my progress, my hurdles, my free-flowing runs of hundreds if not thousands of words.

This year, unlike some others, I have been working steadily and well, and with a firm purpose; I don’t necessarily know where the story is going (although I have a good idea) but nearly every day I have written something… however, and here is the big ‘however’, I have just not managed to meet the target of 1667 words a day, and I have been lagging further and further behind.

A few days ago I honestly thought I wasn’t going to make it this year, and I still have doubts… however, I have worked, head down over the last few days, and although I am not on course yet (with only four days to go) it is, I hope manageable…

Here is an extract… my character Milla is thinking back over jobs she had when she was a student… this is actually what I did… worked in a pickle onion factory:

Milla worked on what the boss called his Heath Robinson machine. She sat on a bicycle seat with a treadle beneath one foot and a pedal beneath the other. In front of her was looked like a cog, but with curved teeth; the pedal opened and closed a big hopper beside her containing the onions. The treadle turned the cog and Milla’s job was to put pickling onions one by one onto the teeth as they fed down from the hopper. The onions would enter the rackety machine in front of her and two rotating blades would slice off the ends. Another circular blade sliced the onion skin lengthways as they passed beneath it. The top and tailed sliced onions would pass into an inner region where air was blasted to blow off the skins. The skins fell into a waste bin, the naked onions came out the other end on a conveyor belt.

The three women worked at the other end, checking the onions were properly peeled; they had small sharp knives to complete the job and once properly skinned they would be tossed into a large plastic brine tub.

The noise was phenomenal for a small machine. If the onions jammed in the hopper Milla would slap it or bang it with her shoulder to shift them. When the hopper was empty she got off her bicycle seat and went and got a new sack and emptied it in. The onions came from the Netherlands and once a Dutch onion picker’s knife tumbled out of the hopper onto her tray.

Milla began to use it instead of the knife she had been issued with, imaging the Dutch onion pickle who might be sadly wondering where his favourite knife was. When she left she took the knife wither.

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here’s a link to my published stories, e-books and paperbacks: