Monthly Archives: August 2012

Writing – Embracing Characterisation in a haunted, Victorian Prison.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

Handcuffs on display at Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

 

I am working on a novel called Mulgrave Castle in which my main character Harriet Twine is a psychic, Victorian detective.  In order to really embrace my character as I re-write, I wanted to visit a place I had been to before which I knew had both a mixture of atmosphere and spiritual energy.  It is the Victorian prison in Lincoln castle.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle

A faithful dog on display at the prison. His master was a poacher who shot a head keeper in the knee. Unfortunately, the man died and William Clark alias Slenderman was hanged for it at Lincoln Prison in 1877.

I decided to do most of my journey by train as this was a popular Victorian mode of transport.  I would have liked to do the whole day in Victorian costume but after doing other experiments in costume, I decided it really was not practical and I would have to use my imagination as far as clothing went.

I have written about the prison elsewhere on the site under Exciting Excursions.  The place which impressed me most on my last visit is the prison chapel.  In 1849 the Separate System came into force.  It was believed that if prisoners were kept in isolation they would become rehabilitated.  They were only let out of their cells to go to the Chapel and for exercise.  It is said to be the only one of its kind left in the world.  The Separate System meant that the inmates would sit in closed in seats, in The Chapel, so that they could not see or speak to anyone else.  The seats are tilted, therefore if any prisoners dared to fall asleep during a sermon they would fall forward and be punished.  There was an open bench at the back which was especially for condemned criminals; obviously it was thought that they were beyond redemption.  Debtors also were not included in the separate system and they would be seated in the gallery with the men above and the female debtors below.  There were sloping seats at the front for the women.  Each criminal in the Separate System was locked into his seat before another could be let in.  In addition to not being allowed to see others, the prisoners also had to wear masks to cover their faces.  In 1851, it was realized that this system did not work and it was abandoned.

Lincoln Victorian Prison in Lincoln Castle.

This is the only chapel of this kind left in the world.

The remarkable aspect of all this is that visitors to the chapel today can stand in the pulpit and have the view which the prison chaplain would have.  Some seats are fitted with a dummy criminal wearing a mask.  The vision is intimidating and the atmosphere is awful and on my first visit it gave me shivers down my back.

Lincoln Victorian Prison, Lincoln Castle

This is the view from the pulpit.

For this visit, I had strongly psyched myself up not to be so intimidated by the chapel, after all, Harriet is Victorian and has never witnessed the liberal world which I am used to.  As I stood in the pulpit looking down on the chapel to take the photographs, I felt a very strong sensation which made me lean backwards so that I could not be pushed.  I put that down to my own imagination and went down into the seats and sat on the front row.

I had not planned to do this but I found that I was sitting observing the other visitors.  People seemed reluctant to stay in the chapel, I found that most were scuttling straight through and not visiting the pulpit.  They seemed as if they should not be in there and were frightened of getting caught.  I decided to stop the next visitors and explain about the pulpit and directed them up to it.  They didn’t look happy and didn’t actually climb into the box.  So as the next people I directed up there were sneaking off, I pointed the pulpit out.  They declined going in.  I eventually witnessed one couple going in and their faces suggested they had eaten something which had gone off.

I felt at this point that my experiment had worked in that I had become like my intrepid Victorian heroine compared to the other visitors, I had lost my modern day queasiness for harder times than ours.

Lincoln Victorian Prison, Lincoln Castle.

A display portraying the gallows just in case we forget what took place in Lincoln Prison.

However, all of that fell by the wayside when I entered Cobb Hall which was built in the 13th century and has been used as a prison and for executions.  The stench of urine as I entered was overwhelming which puzzled me, later it actually made sense as when people are extremely frightened it is not unknown for them to wet themselves.  There is a ladder which leads down to the dungeon and there was very strong negative energy emanating from that area so I declined to go down.  I felt rather ashamed at that point as Harriet would definitely have gone down to try to find out what had happened down there.  For me however, the feeling of evil was too strong.  I did climb up to the top where the hangings took place.  In the mode of Victorian psychic detective, I did not sense anything there.

Cobb Hall, Lincoln Castle.

For many, when they went through those doors – they never came out again alive.

Whilst I was up at the top, unbeknown to me, my son had entered Cobb Hall seen the ladder area leading down to the dungeon and had left immediately, he too got a really negative feeling from that area and rushed to tell me about it as I left Cobb Hall.

Cobb Hall, Lincoln Prison

Down into the dungeon. There is a malevolent energy around this spot.

Did my experiment work?  I feel it did as I think that I have discovered that Harriet is rather more adventurous than I am.  I have discovered that leading a life as a sheltered Victorian lady has made her more likely to throw herself into situations because her life is dull and it is not enough for her.

Do you ever do experiments like this?  If so, please tell so that I know that I am not the only one hanging around Victorian prisons.

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Writing – Point of View Problems – What a Palaver!

English: Mulgrave Castle Well worth a visit

English: Mulgrave Castle Well worth a visit (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

 

At the moment, I am working on a supernatural Victorian novel called Mulgrave Castle.  My main character, Harriet Twine is a young woman who gets dragged mentally and physically into a suspicious murder because she has physic powers which she will not acknowledge.  She is also desperate to find love with the suspicious Dante DeGuise but we will leave bedroom matters for another day.

 

I am on a major re-write as I initially tried to write it entirely from Harriet’s point of view and then decided that I wanted much more insight into the mysterious DeGuise family of Mulgrave Castle and also wanted more of Jane, Harriet’s paid companion, personal thoughts to come through.  I spent goodness knows how long changing the point of view and then I posted the first few chapters on the loonyliterature website.  The posts have been removed since re-writing started again.

 

The extracts were extremely well received, the main criticism being that the point of view moved about too much.  As I had already  changed the point of view about once, I decided to completely put the work aside and leave it for a few months and then go back to it.  I find this really helps when I am not sure whether I agree with criticism or not.  It means that the manuscript I am working on has gone cold in my mind and I can look at it with the eyes of others, more than if it is deeply entrenched in my brain through constant working on it.

 

A strange thing happened before I went back to rereading my last draft of Mulgrave Castle, I was reading Phil Rickman’s book “The Man in The Moss” and found the constant change of point of view really annoying.  I found that I had to stop and think every few pages about whom we were dealing with.  I was further irritated that my two favourite characters, who the back of the book suggested were the main characters, did not feature nearly enough as the point of view seemed so stretched out.  I normally love Phil Rickman’s work, his Merrily Watkin’s books totally transport me but although, I still enjoyed “The Man in The Moss”, I know that if that was the first novel of his that I read, I might not have looked for his other books and been the big fan that I am today.

 

I reread Mulgrave Castle and decided that the lovely ladies who had given me this critique, Maria Thermann and Ross Mountney were spot on.  It means that I have a huge job of rewriting as over half the novel takes place when Harriet isn’t there.  There are times, at the moment, when I could smack myself around the face with a cold fish for changing the point of view in the first place.  However, maybe if I hadn’t tried it another way, I would never have been truly happy not knowing that I had found the best possible solution to Mulgrave Castle’s point of view.

 

Has this ever happened to you?  I would really like to know about your experiences of point of view so that when I am banging my head against the laptop at 6a.m. I know that I am not alone.

 

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Writing – How do you choose a setting?

loonyliterature:

On our sister site willblyton.com, we’re looking at choosing a setting – any opinions would be appreciated.

Originally posted on Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective:

 

 

English: Enid Blyton's former house "Old ...

English: Enid Blyton’s former house “Old Thatch” near Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, England (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

At the moment, I am writing a free in between story for our willblyton.com website.  It is called” Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys” and I’m being either brave or stupid as the work in progress is being posted.  The Will Blyton books are aimed at 9-12 year olds and explore time travel and will be introducing William Shakespeare and his plays in the books and free stories.

 

The setting for Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys is a children’s literary festival in 2006.  This probably seems like a strange place to set a children’s story but around that time my family were going to a lot of children’s literary festivals and seeing a very mixed bag of children’s writers. This was one of the reasons I felt the urge…

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loonyliterature:

We seem to have some really cool literary ladies here who hardly ever get a mention, so a big round of applause for them and for Nisha for writing about them.

Originally posted on In Verbum Scriptum:

August is Women’s Month here in SA. We celebrated National Woman’s Day on the 9th so in honour of it (a bit late, I know, oops), I decided to pay tribute to a few special ladies who have left their mark in the history of literature.

Of course, considering how many brilliant female writers there are, there is a special twist here. The following were not just ordinary authors and poets, they were pioneers of their craft. Yes, I’m going waaaaay back in time, back to ancient history. Some of these names you might know, most of them you might not. They might not be as well-known as the Austens and Brontes but they set a precedence in their communities, influencing not only their own culture but future generations of writers as well. Our histories are marked by patriarchal dominance, yet these women broke new ground and made a name…

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What sort of writer are you – explorer or planner?

English: Mulgrave Castle. Castle ruins situate...

English: Mulgrave Castle. Castle ruins situated in Mulgrave Woods, near Sandsend on the east coast. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the moment, I am on a major re-write of my supernatural, Victorian novel, “Mulgrave Castle”.  I am having days where I am conjuring up the atmosphere I need to re-create the book in my head and I feel truly satisfied.  However, I am also having days when I will do anything before getting started and then find that I have wasted my writing time.  I am beginning to wonder if this is to do with the type of writer I am.

As I see it, there are basically two types of writers. (Of course, many will be a mixture of the two.)  There is the explorer who has maybe a very basic plot and outline ideas for characters and then lets the whole work evolve as she/he writes.  There is also the planner who has virtually everything worked out either on paper or in their head before they start to write.

I would love to be a planner but my writing muse hates it and I have to accept that I am an explorer.  Being an explorer can be tremendous fun as I sit and type and imagine and all sorts of scenes taking place which help me get to know my characters.  However, it means that I have to do about seven drafts of a book and by drafts I don’t mean spellcheck.  I mean doing a draft purely to re-write the plot, exploring the best point of view, then the same with character development and another one to put signposts in etc…

As I work, I have another file open which is called “Mulgrave Castle Leftovers”, this is basically the cutting room floor.  Being an explorer means that I have scene after scene which is cut because there might only be one relevant sentence in it – however writing these scenes are not a waste of time as they give me an intimate insight into characters and setting.  When we first begin to write, we find it difficult to cut, it is almost as if someone is threatening to cut parts of our person off.  The longer we work at our craft, the more we can see what doesn’t work or what simply is clogging the arteries of the story up.  I call it “boning the text” – basically, I am cutting it down to the bone.  To demonstrate the severity of it, I am on page 63 of my most recent re-write and the “Mulgrave Castle Leftovers” file has 10,000 words in it already.  Goodness knows how many words will be in it by the time I get to the end.

So, I’ve shared with you – now do tell, how do you write?

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Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys – Chapter Two.

loonyliterature:

Here we actually get to meet The Maggoty Motleys. They were inspired by a pony and trap ride I enjoyed one Hallowe’en with two (nameless) friends and my son. We were in costume and caused a lot of fun and laughter in the village we rode through. The next day, The Maggoty Motleys were born and I will admit to being Peacock Motley. Time travel fun for 9-12 year olds.

Originally posted on Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective:

PLEASE NOTE THAT THERE IS A PROLOGUE AND CHAPTER ONE TO BE READ BEFORE CHAPTER TWO – THE LINKS ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS POST.

Will fights The Maggoty Motleys.

Will Blyton has no idea of what he is going to be up against.

Chapter Two.

Meanwhile 200 years earlier.

Wilf.

“Wilf! Wilf! You lazy wart.  Get off that pallet of straw and get on the cart.”

Wilf sits up quickly and rubs his eyes.  He looks around and sees his mistress Warthog Motley getting the pony ready.  Her chin is bristly and she has two long pointed teeth which hang over her lips; at least they are good teeth and only a bit yellow, when she smiles, the rest are a rotted black.  Warthog is rounded and wobbly through eating too much Pease Pudding which is similar to a mouldy, green vomit.  She has long, black knotted hair which comes below her drooping…

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Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys – Chapter One.

loonyliterature:

This was inspired by visiting children’s literary festivals and also riding in a pony and trap whilst dressed in Victorian costume. It is comedy and time travel for 9-12 year olds.

Originally posted on Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective:

NOTE – THERE IS A PROLOGUE WHICH GOES BEFORE THIS – THE LINK CAN BE FOUND AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS CHAPTER, FOR THOSE OF YOU WHO HAVE NOT ALREADY READ IT.

Will Blyton

Will Blyton always carries a torch.

Will Blyton stands outside the Groaningsea Palace and wonders what he is doing outside the only hotel in the seaside town of Groaningsea.  Something is different about the town but he can’t work out what it is.  As he rubs his ears to stop the roaring from the road, he realises that it is the noise coming from all the cars, types of cars he has never seen before.  Will turns to look at the huge, Victorian hotel; it looks more like a vast gaol where they take prisoners and lock them deep in the bowels, never to be seen again.  The rows of small windows are like half opened eyes and…

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Conjuring and Capturing Feelings – Inspiration in Ruins.

English: The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey

English: The Gatehouse at Thornton Abbey (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have great writing days and I have writing days when I simply do not understand why I am writing at all.  On the great ones, I experience life at its best, I know I am not simply alive but actually LIVING, really living as the excitement generates around my body and my fingers flash along the keyboards.  On the bad writing days, I stare at the text and I hate it, every word seems wrong; the characters are cardboard and the plot is boring.  I have trouble concentrating as my mind is more concerned with Bowie songs which will play themselves on a loop in my brain and my study looks like a dusty dump.  At this point, it might seem that on the great days, I get lots of quality writing done and on the bad days, I get nothing done at all.  On the contrary, I still get some done on the bad days, maybe not as much as the good days but the main difference is that it is unpleasant.  To be honest, it puzzled me so much that I started to analyse it to see if I could do anything about it.

I thought about the great days and how they start off and after a while it occurred to me that it is all about feeling certain ways for certain pieces of writing.  For instance, when I work on Mulgrave Castle a supernatural, Victorian novel, I often get a certain feeling coming over me which is my supernatural, Victorian feeling –all it is, is how I felt when I read books and visited places which inspired Mulgrave Castle.  In other words, I had captured the feelings when being inspired to write the book and sometimes they appear when I am actually writing it.  On the bad days, when I would rip it up, if it was on paper, I have not conjured up these feelings and it is jolly hard work.

The more I thought about this, the more it occurred to me that if I could retain the feelings I get when I am inspired and conjure them up at will, my writing and writing experience will greatly benefit from it.  I suppose that really it is merely what Stanislavski suggested  actors should do all those years ago, capture the emotion, store it and learn to bring it back at will.  As I reflected on this, I thought it would be useful if when visiting places to be inspired, I also went with the purpose of capturing the feelings to use again later.  To do this as an experiment, we decided to visit Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire as we have used it before for inspiration; I expect though that all ruins will do perfectly well, wherever you are.

Thornton Abbey

Thornton Abbey

There are some places which one should arrive at preferably by train, Venice being the most obvious example, however, Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire is another one.  If you want to feel as if you have gone back to the world of Enid Blyton or “Swallows and Amazons” dump the car at one of the rural villages along the Barton Upon Humber to Cleethorpes railway line and catch the train to Thornton Abbey.

As I chug along through the flat Lincolnshire countryside, I prepare myself for the jump down from the train.  The platform at the Thornton Abbey stop is so old, I literally have to jump off as the platform is way lower than the train.  It is at this point that I start to feel as if I’ve gone back in time.  The beautiful Thornton Abbey Gatehouse beckons in the distance as we make our way along a path which has glorious countryside on either side and big faced, lazy sheep greet us with a glimmer of interest.  The reason I suggest dumping the car and catching the train somewhere along the line is that walking up the path to Thornton Abbey transports me into another world and is a strong source of inspiration when writing children’s adventure stories.  I strongly remember being eleven and long summer holidays; I close my eyes and monitor the feeling, truly noting it and recognising it instead of simply basking in it.  I picture an eleven year old me running down the path towards Thornton Abbey and hold it.  I do a mental click as if I have taken a photograph and hope that I will be able to conjure up this wonderful feeling when the time is right.

We get to the entrance of The Gatehouse and I am really excited as I have been here before and I have to say that it is one of my favourite places to visit.  I am not going to write the history of Thornton Abbey as that is not the point of the piece and there is lots of information on that elsewhere on the internet.

One of the reasons I love visiting Thornton Abbey so much is that it has a wonderful effect on me.  Whenever I visit it, it changes my mood into a very happy, carefree one; the peaceful, happy feelings on the land are so powerful it is like taking a tonic. I intend to capture that strong feeling today, hopefully for use in the future. I have to say at this point that I am well aware that there are stories of Thornton Abbey being haunted by Thomas De Gretham, the 14th abbot of Thornton Abbey,  who was supposed to have been a practitioner of the dark arts and rather partial to the pleasures of the flesh.  He suffered for his crimes in that he was bricked up alive in an underground dungeon and was found still sitting at his desk in the 1830s, hundreds of years later.  There are supposed to have been sightings of him but the only feelings I get from there are happy, beneficial ones which I can use to energise me when I am writing.

Even though Thornton Abbey has a very strong happy aura, it can be used to create feelings for writing spooky stories.  Will and I took picnic rugs and a copy of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-tale Heart” to Thornton Abbey to read the story amongst the ruins.  We had just finished the story when the sky turned black and we were assaulted with that hard, harsh rain which hurts and soaks within minutes.  We had to shelter in the ruins, which, being ruins, did not really shelter us at all.  It was too far to run to the gatehouse or the small exhibition room so we had to wait and watch the turbulent weather and the swallows flew in and out of our shelter telling us to go – the scene was spooky but made me feel excited.  I closed my eyes and focussed on the image I experienced.  Hopefully, when I remember the scene, the emotions I experienced would return when I want to create that feeling for writing.

Thornton Abbey

A spooky place to take shelter when there is a storm.

Once the rain stopped, we went to do our final experiment.  We were going to use the main hall on the second floor of the gatehouse for Will to perform a Richard III monologue.  The room was darkly lit with a wooden floor which bends slightly when walked along and shafts of light escape through the gaps up into the room.  It was perfect for Will to perform the villain’s piece and as I watched I shivered and did feel as if I was in another time.  Will took the emotion of how he felt in that room away with him; he really did feel that it was a powerful exercise.

Thornton Abbey

I could really imagine Shakespeare’s Richard III in here plotting.

It might all seem like a great deal of fuss for a bit of writing and acting but it works, not every time because we all have times in our life when it is distraught and we cannot escape reality.  However, because the great moments in life are so precious, we have to create them when and where we can – give it a go when you get the chance or have you been doing it for years? Let me know.

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Prologue – Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys

loonyliterature:

Especially for the kids. We’re running an inbetween story for Will Blyton. It’s called Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys, it’s aimed at 9-12 year olds with a challenge to write along with us this summer.

Originally posted on Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective:

“Will Blyton and The Maggoty Motleys” is an ‘inbetween’ novella which is going to be written and posted onto this site.  The story takes places between books one and two.  It is a work in progress to keep the writing muscle working in Will Blyton’s world.  Apart from reading the novella as it grows – warts and all – I am placing exercises at the bottom for you to do, if you so wish.   

Will Blyton - The Alternative Detective.

Will Blyton investigates.

PROLOGUE

Groaningsea 1974

Will Blyton clips the switch on his microphone off and places it beside his cassette recorder; he then presses down on the rewind button and looks forward to listening to his favourite television show once again.   The credits are still rolling up the screen and Will imagines that his name is there in big letters as the script writer for “Doctor Who”.  He sees himself sitting in the television…

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loonyliterature:

I love people who go the extra mile to help others, especially when they are encouraging young people who have had a hard time to get on in life. I love this post where Lois helps 15-16 year old in a pupil referral unit to pass an exam on Macbeth. Lois gets top marks and everything else going for her effort and teaching know how – she is really a Loony Literature type of lady – well done Lois!

Originally posted on Lois Elsden:

I taught 15-16 year olds in a pupil referral unit; this is an educational establishment for young people who can’t or won’t function within the ordinary state system. We taught them in their last year of statutory education, just one year to turn them around and get them some decent exam results so they would have a realistic chance of a  future, in education, training, or employment. As you can imagine, these young people were seriously challenging with every sort of behavioral issue, every sort of emotional difficulties and often with crime and substance abuse lurking in their background.

Team building with two of my favourite students on a miserable day in the Mendip Hills. We’re standing on a wobbly plank at trying to cross an imaginary chasm! Aaron, on the right, wrote a brilliant ‘Macbeth’ essay. 

The General Certificate of Secondary Education in English includes the study of a Shakespeare play. The obvious choice is ‘Romeo and Juliet.’ aided by Baz Luhrmann’s wonderful film… but they had nearly all studied it to…

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