Should I kill him?

First of all, I have to reassure you that I don’t plan or intend to kill anyone! I am a pacifist so killing, wounding or hurting is right out of the window! However, as a fiction writer, sometimes things occur in my books which are just that, fiction. I don’t write thrillers or horror stories so compared to some novels, mine are rather tame – but gripping and engaging all the same!!

Going back to the question in the title… I am writing another Thomas Radwinter story; Thomas is an ordinary bloke, a small town part-time solicitor, part-time stay-at-home dad, and the books chart his  genealogical investigations which started off when he explored his own family history. As the series has progressed he has been asked to ‘investigate’ other things, mostly the sort of things which would not involve the police, a mysterious Moroccan brought back from a cruise by an old lady, a sinister Tibetan lama who has power over an ordinary teacher and father, the suspicious death of a school girl in 1931…

So now in the new story, Thomas has several things going on as well as juggling life with five children… you will have to read the stories to find out how he managed to have a big family so quickly… and an increasingly busy work-life as well as researching his wife’s family tree. One story line which has been poddling along (much like Thomas poddles along trying to cope with his hectic life) is of Darius who works at the local museum at the old Umbrella Factory who is being stalked by someone who regularly visits the place. It is a busy and popular venue for all sorts of activities and has a new and busy café;  and Darius has no idea who the stalker is; at first he pays no attention, but he becomes increasingly irritated and unsettled by it. As Thomas says

the stalker business, although creepy seems unthreatening. I know it can’t be nice to be watched… I mean supposing you accidental scratched your bum, or blew your nose in a not very successful way, or poured coffee down yourself… you wouldn’t want someone watching you, would you?

Darius is someone I have written about a couple of times… a character in search of a story, I guess, and he now has a place in this one… or has he? Sometimes with my writing unexpected things happen, unexpected to me, I mean, not just unexpected to the characters. Thomas was going round in circles a bit with this stalker-business and really not making any progress… and then Darius disappears, he just doesn’t turn up for work. Thomas is passing by his home and decides to knock on his door; knowing Darius had become very depressed, he thinks he might be just sitting at home unhappy and alone. However when Thomas arrives at his house, the door is open, and on going in Thomas finds him dead, and not only dead, but obviously murdered!

This was a terrible shock to Thomas as you might imagine, but it was also a surprise to me! When I sat back to think about what should happen next I became a little unsettled… I’d had Darius as a character for quite a while, and I didn’t really want him dead before he had told his story or had his story told… so I changed him. I took him out of this story and he has gone back in the ‘waiting’ file, to be replaced in this narrative by Fergus, who is a nerdy sort of a weedy chap with a look of Rupert Brooke (if anyone remembers him)

So now Fergus, not Darius is dead and I have had not exactly a crisis, but a sudden thought that maybe this is all getting too complicated. The police would be involved, Thomas’s investigation would be revealed, and it would all be taken out of Thomas’s hands. However, I really felt the story was getting a bit uninteresting, that there needed to be an incident of some sort to liven it up (I know in real life, the death of someone is dreadful, but in fiction it can keep the reader gripped trying to find out the who and why done it!)

Maybe instead of dying, Fergus should disappear – kidnapped/gone missing/run away/ trapped/breakdown –  but wait, in my story this is a plot-line already with another character!! This needs thinking about…

Am I juggling too many balls? Are there too many different things going on? Will the readers be groaning and tearing their hair out and hurling my book across the room or out of the window?

I must ponder on this, as Thomas would say (he does a lot of pondering) I’ve been in similar dilemmas before, lain awake wondering about story-lines and characters, or driven to the wrong destination because I’ve been thinking about the narrative, or got lost because I’m concentrating on the people inside my head not the real people I’m supposed to be meeting… Does this make it sound as if I’m losing my marbles? I’m sure other writers have similar issues… don’t they?

Writing as an industrial process… maybe… maybe not!

I’ve been writing about blogging, and about a helpful list was published to assist all prospective bloggers who might be running aground for ideas, or if they are just beginning, have few ideas at all!

This is a list of seventy-three blog subjects and I’ve been challenging myself  to have  a go at writing a blog for each of the suggestions. I’ve started this on the Moving Dragon blog I share with to other people and this one is on the list as Latest Industry News  which is obviously aimed at people who have lives other than writing and might want to share news or views on whatever their line is. So slanting it slightly, accepting that writing is part of an industry, here are my thoughts:

2. Latest Industry News 

Is writing an industry? In a wider sense yes it is, and maybe today with the internet it is a greater industry than ever before. As a writer of novels, as a blogger, as a teacher of creative writing and family history writing, as a member of two writing groups, I think I can claim to be part of that industry, even in a very lowly and amateur position!

So my latest news (as an industrial writer, or a writing industrialist)

  1. my novels – having hit a metaphorical wall with the Radwinter genealogical mystery I am working on, circumstances forced me to have a break from it. There are several story-lines and I confess I was getting a little confused with how each was playing out – and if I, the writer am confused, then pity my poor readers! The first in the Radwinter series was written as a stand-alone novel, but although it concluded satisfactorily, it seemed to cry out for a second part; in the first story the paternal line of the Radwinter family had been explored, now the maternal line needed to be followed. Subsequent novels followed, and in this the latest, present day family issues are the background, while the mysteries the Thomas Radwinter is tasked to solve are to the forefront. Two different stalkers, a jealous and possessive ex-husband, the nineteenth century coastal salt industry, an amnesiac, a family history… Thomas has a lot of work to do. I reached a point where I was getting lost in it all – so my enforced breather was a real positive. I am now reading through the whole story so far, making corrections and notes as I go and I’m sure I will be invigorated!
  2. my blog – going very well at the moment; yesterday I wrote three offerings: ‘On the edge of the pond‘ – an excerpt from my novel ‘Farholm; ‘Savouries‘ – looking at a course on a dinner menu which seems to have gone out of fashion; Side-saddle – a short biography of pianist Russ Conway
  3. Moving Dragon blog – also continuing well – you can look back at previous posts to see how well it is doing!
  4. Moving Dragon – very excited at the progress we three dragons are making towards an anthology we are publishing in the autumn/winter. An update will be posted soon!!
  5. writing group (1) – having thoughts about the subject for the next meeting where the subject to write about is ‘Earth’ (following on from water, fire and air)
  6. writing group (2) – early days, but some of us are planning a ‘write-in’, where we meet together and each work solidly and with focus, break for refreshments and then continue (just the thing to get over my struggles as above!)
  7. creative writing group (I lead) – at our recent meeting we shared some great pieces of writing, and welcomed a new member. The task for next time is to write from some stimulus pictures and titles, concentrating in particular on how we start our pieces
  8. family  history writing groups (I lead) – these are new groups, which got off to a faltering start in May; however we have some interesting new people joining us so I’m looking forward to an autumn of great writing from them (and me!) The first meeting will probably be taken up with introductions and with people explaining what they would like to achieve, but I will set an optional task for the next meeting
  9. thoughts for future writing – it is only six weeks away from the on-line writing challenge of The national Novel Writing Month – 50,00 new words in November. I am not quite sure whether to rewrite a couple of old stories, just taking the plot and characters reworking it completely, whether to work on a sequel to a previous novel I have written, or whether to take the bones of what I wrote last year – a sort of biographical memoir sort of a piece, and knock it into a proper, publishable shape… hmmm… a little daunting… of course a completely new inspiration might come!
  10. paperback publishing – prepare my next e-book for republishing as a paperback. It will be Magick, part 2 of the Radwinter stories (I hope to publish them all in paperback, one every six months)

So… that is my writing news…

© Lois Elsden 2017

Here is a link to my books:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_3_10?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=lois+elsden&sprefix=lois+elsde%2Caps%2C143&crid=2LH42U38J5NV0

… and to me fellow blogger’s:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_4_10?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=richard+kefford&sprefix=richard+ke%2Cdigital-text%2C136&crid=1B15ZAN73TWEG&rh=n%3A341677031%2Ck%3Arichard+kefford

… and to the 73 blog list:

http://optinmonster.com/73-type-of-blog-posts-that-are-proven-to-work/

 

The third woman

Today I’m sharing an excerpt from my most recently published Radwinter book, ‘Earthquake’. Thomas Radwinter has been consulted about a mystery – in 1931 thirteen Chinese girls were at a summer school, and several of them died in mysterious circumstances; at the time they were thought to be accidents, but Thomas has been asked to investigate by the son of one of the surviving girls.

In this excerpt, he is meeting Edward Foxley, the son of another ‘girl’ who died some twenty years later in 1952, drowned in a boating ‘accident’ with a school-friend, Cissie.

Edward Foxley was a very thin but quite handsome man; he had wire rimmed glasses which gave him an old fashioned appearance, and he reminded me a little of the politician Jacob Rees Mogg. I had my sensible, serious head on, and didn’t try and act dumb. I passed him details of the history of the old school, the photo of the girls and the school then and now. There was nothing personal about the girls, and no mention of their deaths.
“Your mother was very beautiful, sir,” I said as I handed him a larger copy of her photo. He nodded but said nothing and gazed at it… ‘Chinese crackers…
He looked again at the pictures of all the girls.
“Which one is Aunt Cissie? “
I pointed to her as she stared coolly and sadly out of the photo.
“Do you know how they died?” he asked.
I replied that I’d come across a newspaper report so yes, I did, and I offered my condolences for her passing sixty years ago.
“I have been to the place where she and Aunty Cissie died, I cannot imagine how it happened… The river is so slow, sluggish, how could two fit, not old women have died? It is shallow enough for them to have stood up… They both could swim, how did it happen!” he asked looking at me severely through his wire rimmed glasses. I felt a little uncomfortable, he reminded me of someone else who wore glasses who had done his best to kill me…
“Could you describe it to me, sir?”
He described the sluggish river, the water a greeny brown with a particular smell. There were meadows on either side, and when he was there the water was quite busy with punts and canoes. He’d walked there and then gone back and hired a punt, as his mother and Cissy had in 1953.
“I have thought about it a lot, Mr Radwinter. All the reports describe it as a tragic accident, but how? As I mentioned, mother was a good swimmer, a very good swimmer. She and my aunt went away on holiday together often, and they always went somewhere they could swim. Father and I would stay at home while they went off gallivanting…” He gave a little laugh. “That’s what father called it, I’d quite forgotten, gallivanting…” He drank his coffee.
I asked him if he knew anything about any of his mother’s school friends although he was very young when she died. He said nothing and I wondered whether he’d heard me and if I should repeat it.
Instead I said that I’d noticed in a couple of the newspaper reports of the accident a mention of a third person in the punt, another woman, but that it wasn’t referred to in the coroner’s report. I expected him to be suspicious of my interest – this wasn’t anything to do with writing a monograph on the Academy.
“Do you know who she is?” he asked eagerly… No I didn’t, I replied. I also didn’t say that if she existed, she may have been responsible for other deaths too.
There was something I didn’t like about him, I don’t know what, or why I felt like this.
“Was she one of my mother’s school friends? For some reason I always thought she might be…” and he lapsed into silence staring at his coffee. Now this was very interesting; he knew about the third woman, and he believed she’d been in the punt… So who could it be? I didn’t say anything to him but mentally ran through who was left, Frieda, Alma, Bertha or Frances…

© Lois Elsden 2017

If you want to find out whether these accidents were murder, and whether Thomas finds the answer to the eighty year-old mystery, then here is a link:

https://www.amazon.co.uk/EARTHQUAKE-RADWINTER-Book-LOIS-ELSDEN-ebook/dp/B06Y18H8JR/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1504942625&sr=8-2&keywords=lois+elsden

…and another link to my other e-books, and my recently published paperbacks:

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:

 

 

 

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!