Helpful hints for writing… or not…

This is an article I wrote a couple of weeks ago for my Moving Dragon Writes blog, http://www.somersetwriters.wordpress.com

Like most people who  do something – in my case writing, I try and do all I can to do it better… mostly it is just practice, practice, practice (Gary Player said ‘Yes, I’m a lucky golfer, but do you know, the more I practice, the luckier I get!‘) I also read a lot about other writers, especially those I admire and those who are considered masters – what they write, and what they write about writing. There are many helpful hints, but a lot of the hints are things I do already. There are also suggestions (and sometimes more forcefully, instructions, or even commands) which just do not work for me – and I am sure this is true for most people. My way of writing isn’t the same as anybody else’s… I mentioned several things recently which some writers dictate others should do:

  • always carry a note-book… no, it just doesn’t work for me; I forget to use it, or I can’t read what I have written, or having deciphered it can’t imagine why I wrote it, or the brilliant idea, like the poem you think of in the night, is actually just rubbish
  • plan your story from start to finish, rough out the chapters, do a timeline, do an autobiography for your characters… no this really does not work for me; my mind isn’t like that, I would find it boring, things change as I write – just as I change in life as I learn and experience different things – a person I meet for the first time might seem a completely different person when I get to know them better
  • have a routine… stop right there! No! I hate routine!

In fact I think I will stop there…

You see what I have learned through working hard at my writing and writing every day and keeping going even through the boring bits and finding inspiration in all sorts of strange places and writing in my head when I can’t write because I’m doing something else… What I have learned is everyone writes in their own way. If I could ask ten of the writers I most admire how they write and how they write so well and what advice  they would give, I bet every single one would be different.

Having said that… there are some interesting writing ‘tips’ here:

https://thoughtcatalog.com/cody-delistraty/2013/09/21-harsh-but-eye-opening-writing-tips-from-great-authors/

… and here are a few from the list I like:

  • You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. – Jack London
  • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. – W. Somerset Maugham
  • Don’t take anyone’s writing advice too seriously. – Lev Grossman

Another thing I really do find valuable, is criticism. If I agree with it I can change whatever it was. If I don’t agree with it I have to work out why I don’t agree with it, defend what I have done, then ponder on why the criticism was made. An example is, a friend criticised one of early stories saying there was too much dialogue; I disagreed but looked back at those passages in my book. What my characters said was the conversation I had overheard in my imagination, a very real and vivid conversation, and I had noted it all down. However – however ‘real’ that conversation was, do my readers actually have to ‘hear’ all of it? So although I disagreed with my friend, I took serious notice of her comments and have ‘adjusted’ my characters’ conversations ever since.

Here is a link to me e-books and my latest paperback, ‘Radwinter’:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_1_10?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+elsde%2Caps%2C134&crid=QQZS65QVJ72L

 

Wednesday – anyone for tea?

It’s afternoon tea week!! On Sunday in inadvertent anticipation, I shared my treacle scones recipe, then on Monday I had a look at the afternoon tea menu from the Ritz in London… just a little beyond my pocket! Yesterday I discovered the wonderfully named shooting star open sandwich – doesn’t the name just  make you want to wolf it down? So today, I’m thinking about cake… you have to have cake with a proper afternoon tea.

On Sunday, and again at the time I didn’t realise it was going to be ATW (afternoon tea week) and I made a delicious cake by one of my favourite cooks, Maryam, who shares some yumptious Persian recipes and is going to publish a book of them next year (I’m sure she is excited, so am I!) It caught my eye not only because the picture looked so enticing, but also it sounded interesting, olive oil, squash, pistachios? Sounds good to me. So I made it – I’ve had trouble with cakes using oil before, but not this one!! So delicious!! Don’t just take my word for it, here’s a link to the recipe, go ahead, make it! The recipe works and it’s yummy:

http://www.thepersianfusion.com/spiced-squash-cake-with-pistachios-a-healthier-option/

So for my afternoon tea I would definitely have this… and what else, you have to have at least two types of cake!

Going back to Wednesday, named after Woden the Norse god, it’s not necessarily a great day to be born, Wednesday’s child is full of woe… and the Irish and Scottish name for the day refers to fasting… not a cake day then… I’m struggling to find a cake associated with Wednesday or with Woden, but a further link is the planet mercury – so… according to Vedic astrology mung beans are the thing for Wednesday… but no, not for cakes! However, on another site I find that mercury in astrological medicine from the sixteenth century, is associated with carrots and nuts!! What does this mean? it means carrot cake! My favourite!!

Here is a version with pineapple as well, and desiccated coconut. it is so moist and delicious!

Carrot, pineapple and coconut cake

  • 9 oz plain flour
  • 1½ tsp baking powder
  • 7 oz brown sugar
  • 5½ fl oz oil (following my recent success with Maryam’s cake I now use olive oil)
  • 2 medium carrots finely grated, or processed (but not to a mush – the bits have to be carroty still)
  • 8½ oz crushed pineapple, undrained
  • 2 oz desiccated coconut
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp cinnamon (as I don’t like cinnamon I would use mixed spice or allspice)
  • cream cheese frosting (3 oz cream cheese, 2 oz butter, 11 oz icing sugar – I like a lemon flavour but you can add vanilla if you prefer)
  • nuts of your choice to decorate I like walnuts, pecan or pistachio but have what you like
  1. prepare a 9×9 cake tin (greased and lined)
  2. mix dry ingredients
  3. add all the other ingredients and mix well, really well
  4. bake at 350° F, 180° C, gas mark 4 for about 35 mins (this is what the recipe says, in my oven it takes  another 15-20 mins) check and take out if done, or leave in for a few more minutes
  5. when cool, decorate with the frosting and nuts

 

Links to my afternoon tea stories:

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/13/treacle-scones/

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/14/afternoon-tea-week/

https://loiselden.com/2017/08/15/afternoon-tea-week-its-tuesday/

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

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

 

Tracking

 

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:

http://nanowrimo.org

… 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:

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

… and if you want to follow me on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/LOCOIMLOCO

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

Salt

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:

 

 

 

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)

 

The Norfolk Zeppelin raids

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’m writing the next Thomas Radwinter story, and in this one, Thomas investigates the ancestry of his wife Kylie. Her father is Tobagan and her mother English, and to begin with he looks at the English side of her family and discovers that her grandmother as a little girl was living near Great Yarmouth during the first World War and was caught up in a bombing raid by German Zeppelins… Zeppelins, part of the German Imperial Navy (not the air-force as I had thought)  L3 an L4 to be precise.

On January 19th 1915  L3 and L4 had left Fuhlsbüttel near Hamburg in Germany to attack military and industrial targets on Humberside – the original target had been the Thames estuary but bad weather prevailed. These massive airships could fly for thirty hours, carrying bombs and incendiary devices. You might think that their first target would have been London; however the German emperor, Kaiser Wilhelm II would not give permission for the capital to be bombed for fear of harming his cousins, the royal family of Britain, nor on the historic buildings of the country. He wasn’t very keen on bombing Britain at all, but eventually relented and allowed for strategic attacks to take place, the first being on Humberside in the January of 1915.

I mentioned above that my fictional character, Kylie’s grandmother, was living near Great Yarmouth in 1915, so my imaginary world comes into contact with real, actual history. The two zeppelins, L3 and L4 were driven south  from their original plan because of bad weather, and changed their targets to the coast of Norfolk. They flew over the coast of East Anglia in the dark, north of Great Yarmouth –  L3 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz, turned south-east towards Great Yarmouth and  L4 under the command of Kapitanleutnant Count Magnus von Platen-Hallermund,  heading in the opposite direction,  north-west towards Kings Lynn. How did the pilots navigate to their targets? They dropped incendiary bombs to light their way.

L3 bombed Great Yarmouth killing and injuring the first British civilians ever to have died in this way. Now in the twenty-first century we are so used to the idea of air attacks, our news is full of the dreadful bombings and air-raids happening in other tragic countries. It must have been an unbeleivable horror and shock in 1915 to have this attack coming seemingly from nowhere, hundreds of miles from the war zone. Zeppelin L4  continued its route along the coast,bombing places I knew so well as a child, visiting them on ‘trips to the seaside’, Brancaster, Sheringham,  Heacham, Snettisham, until it reached Kings Lynn. L4 was  downed a month later by bad weather, a lighning strike setting the mighty beast ablaze.

I had to research all this, just as my character Thomas Radwinter does; people ask me if I plan my stories… well, no, I may have a general idea, but as the story evolves new things occur, sometimes thoughts arise from nowhere and I pursue them – like the zeppelin raids!  I had originally set this part of the story in Brighton, 1880-1911, but for various reasons had to change it. For some reason the historical action moved to Norfolk, and while I was researching I came across the zeppelin raids!

I know each writer has their own particular way of working, and what is perfect for someone is hopeless for another – and when I’m teaching about writing, I share the different ways people can approach their craft, but in the end it is what works and is successful for them… and for me (and Thomas Radwinter) my rather random way works very well!