Category Archives: Inspiration and Us

Help Your Child To Be Successful – A Simple Way To Introduce Shakespeare Early

If you live in some parts of the world, Britain, for instance, your child will have to study Shakespeare to get an English GCSE. It is often problematic, so much so that students resitting the course still cannot engage with the Bard. It is taking some students three years or longer to get a C for English and it upsets me. Three years normally gets you a degree. I’m not saying that is just due to Shakespeare because I know that it is not but it is a part of it.

I’ve said this before and I will not stop saying it, it’s because the groundwork needs to be done when they are little. If your eyes are bulging at this point, I don’t mean that you should get a four year old to deconstruct Hamlet, I mean drip feed it in a fun and exciting fashion.

Start off with Puck from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

  • Puck is often represented as a child – this will instantly allow recognition.
  • Puck can do magic. Small children often feel powerless in a world where they really don’t have much say. They will want to creatively engage with Puck because they can imagine being able to change things.
  • Puck is mischievous – think  Just William and Horrid Henry.

4 fun ways to introduce your child to Puck, a Shakespearean character:

Through drawing

Do your own version.

Do your own version.

Set up your drawing or art equipment and then show your child the above drawing of Puck by Victorian artist Arthur Rackham. Explain that Puck is a sprite that is in a play for stage called A Midsummer Night’s Dream by a very famous man called William Shakespeare. Don’t forget to mention that he lived about five hundred years ago.

Tell them that Puck is also called Robin Goodfellow and plays naughty tricks in people’s houses and in the woods. Explain that he is also a shapeshifter and transforms himself. Invite your child to draw or paint their own version of him. When they have finished ask them why they have done it like that. How do they view Puck?

Through movement and dance

Make sure that your child is in comfortable clothes and that you have cleared a floor space. Watch this short video of Puck dancing. Ask your child why Puck moves like that in the video – is he trying to send us a secret message without words? Invite your child to copy some of the movements. When you have done that, talk about how they think Puck might move and help them to make up their own dance. You could then film it.

Through drama

Use this quotation from Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Act III – scene 1 – lines 100 – 106 (Arden)

Through bog, through bush, through brake, through briar;

Sometime a horse I’ll be, sometime a hound,

A hog, a headless bear, sometime a fire;

And neigh, and bark, and grunt, and roar, and burn,

Like horse, hound, hog, bear, fire, at every turn.

 

Talk about it being in a woodland setting so they would have to act out wading through a bog making sure that they did not sink, fighting scratchy bushes etc… Once they have mastered the landscape, they can imagine that they are Puck and they have to transform themselves into different creatures – what would they be like? How would a hog get through a bog for instance? Again, you could film the end product on your phone.

Through making up a story

It’s important to remember that before children can write stories by themselves, they need to be able to create them; doing this regularly will help your child to be successful at English. Ask your child what they would do if they could be Puck for an afternoon. What would they transform themselves into? Would they play cheeky tricks on others or would they help somebody?

Once you find out what they would really love to do, turn it into a simple story.

  • The beginning is when they find out that they can be Puck for an afternoon.
  • The middle would be the one thing which they would do.
  • The end is the outcome of what they do.

When the story has been worked out, if the child is too young to write – do it for them. There is nothing that will give a child the desire to write more than seeing their own words down on the page.

I hope this helps. Remember even four year olds can be introduced to Shakespeare if it is done simply and gently.

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Filed under Education, For children, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Parenting

Creative Writing – Research is all important

Losing readers

Getting your facts right is an all important part of being a writer. You will lose your readers quicker than a certain party lost its seats at the election if you drop a clanger like having someone drive a bright red sports car around the centre of Venice. This is why research is so important. We may not use most of the research we cover but we need to pay attention to the small details of the time and place we are writing about so that what we eventually put in is authentic.

Research is also your insurance against talking heads. By this, I mean having characters just standing talking or sitting opposite each other drinking tea. Readers enjoy movement even if your Victorian lady is simply cleaning her teeth – you can actually have her doing something while she is thinking about who might have poisoned the vicar.

Let’s not assume that brushing the teeth then was just the same as it is today. For instance, these days, most of us are able to look after our teeth quite well with the aid of modern dentistry and all the products on the market. However, in Victorian times there was not such a lot of choice. Toothbrushes looked like the ones we use now; although the handles would have been made of bone or wood and the bristles would have been of horse or pony hair.

Fancy cleaning your teeth?

Fancy cleaning your teeth?

Soot and charcoal

Toothpaste was referred to then as dentifrice; many people cleaned their teeth with a little salt or soot though. However, your character could go to the pharmacy or chemist and buy commercial dentifrice. These were mostly coloured abrasives which would polish the teeth. In these pastes you would find that it was the powdered chalk and cuttlefish which were the ingredients which would make your pearly whites sparkle; although soot and charcoal was also used in some pastes.

To make your character’s mouth smell medicated, camphor, myrrh or burnt laurel would be added. These would linger in the mouth to make his, or her, breath inoffensive. The camphor and alum may also have had a small antibacterial effect too.

Powdered coral and dragon’s blood were added so that gums would appear pink and healthy. These days we expect toothpaste to be white to reflect the colour of our teeth but in the Victorian era it was supposed to emphasize what good condition their gums were in. All of these things can be woven in to add detail and keep your characters on the move.

Looking good!

Looking good!

Incidentally, when chalk was added to some brands of dentifrice, it was the same material which folks would use to scrub out their sinks and bath tubs with. The cuttlefish in the paste was found washed up on the beaches. Today we use it in budgerigar feed.

Happy writing.

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Writing a Crime Novel – Ideas

A resource to get you started

Do you want to write a crime novel but don’t have the confidence? Don’t worry, you could always base it on a real life crime. If you are worried about being sued by the people involved, the trick is to set it in the past; this way your book will appeal to lovers of both crime and historical fiction.

To demonstrate what we mean, we offer a springboard to get you started. This is worth reading even if you don’t intend to write anything.

Your springboard is the Poison Ring in Paris in 1673. During that year of Louis XIV’s reign, two priests told the King that a number of penitents had asked for absolution after murdering their spouses. Obviously, names could not be given but the Chief of Police, Nicholas de la Reynie was put onto the case. He found out that a ring of fortune tellers were supplying what were called ‘succession powders’, in other words poisons, so that people could get rid of inconvenient partners.

What is going on in the minds' of those in Louis XIV's court?

What is going on in the minds’ of those in Louis XIV’s court?

International poisons ring

The problem for De la Reynie was that he had no names. However, he kept sniffing the air and after four years he managed to fit together clues which led him to understand that there was an international poisons ring. It was similar to the drugs and paedophile rings which go on these days. Even more surprisingly, De la Reynie discovered that the ring was headed by men of influence.

Eventually, De la Reynie got the lead he had been waiting for. The fortune teller, Marie Bosse said that she was going to retire after she had arranged three more poisonings. A disguised policewoman consulted Bosse on how she could get rid of her spouse and an arrest was made when Bosse sold the poison to her. Her house was raided and many poisons were found there. Bosse, her husband and two sons were arrested. La Vigoreux, another fortune seller who shared a communal bed with the family, was also arrested.

A later burning alive execution.

A later burning alive execution.

After they were interrogated, it was revealed that up to half of the aristocracy were trying to poison one another. The king was shocked but even more so when he discovered that two ladies were planning to get rid of one of his own mistresses, Louise de la Valliere. Marie Bosse was burned alive.

So here we have it – a setting, a plot, main characters and even a detective. What are you waiting for? Happy writing.

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Creative Writing – A Great Character Needs Attitude

Here at Loony Literature, we love distinctive characters and feel that an important part of characterization is attitude – theirs not yours. So how can we encapsulate this in our writing?

Let’s imagine that you want to create a middle class, Victorian, married woman who has a family. What type of attitude might she have about her main occupation of being a home maker? One of the easiest ways to do this is to read what she might have read.

Make the most of free resources

A good place to start in this particular case is with The Book of Household Management by Mrs Beeton which can be downloaded for free if you follow this link. Mrs Beeton is probably the most famous British cookery writer in British history. She lived in the 19th century and gave advice on most things to do with a woman’s life. If you need to know how to deal with servants – it’s in there.

This is full of interesting information for the writer .

This is full of interesting information for the writer .

Lying in opium dens smoking

For instance, Mrs Beeton suggested that if you have young people still living at home, agreeable pastimes should be promoted. She stressed that homes should be comfortable, full of happiness and offer a great source of amusement. If the young folks cannot find pleasure at home they will seek it elsewhere. She pointed out to parents that they should make it a domestic policy that their children should feel that ‘home is the happiest place in the world’. We can imagine Victorian ladies worrying that if they do not come up with the domestic goods, they would be to blame for their children lying in opium dens smoking funny looking pipes. Some things never change.

Worry not because Mrs Beeton does actually explain how this can be done. The mother can gather the girls of the household around her to enjoy a couple of hours of light or fancy needlework. If they want to have a real rip roaring time, they can always throw in a game of chess or backgammon.

Mrs Beeton also suggested that feminine members of the family like to sit around and listen to amusing publications being read out loud. However, if the whole family is joining in the listening it must be polite literature which is on offer – no Frankenstein or Dracula then.

Mm - Guess who is keeping a happy home?

Mm – Guess who is keeping a happy home?

Books like this are a goldmine of information for the writer and will inspire you endlessly. Even more importantly, they will give you an excellent awareness of attitude which is all important when creating character. Happy writing.

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Writing Ideas – Using Non Fiction to Produce Fiction

A Nostalgic Setting

For any one reading our regular writing springboards who is doubtful that this method produces results, take a look at ITV’s sublime television series, Home Fires.  Incidentally, if you want something that offers a nostalgic setting, edge of the seat conflict, skilled acting and is truthful and exquisitely tasteful, then this is for you.

Two of my favourite actors, Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond.

Two of my favourite actors, Francesca Annis and Samantha Bond.

Set in Cheshire during World War II, the main arena is the Women’s Institute and when I say the word arena, I mean it. Don’t be put off by the words ‘jam making’ because that is actually the water that binds all the other ingredients together. This superb drama is about war, domestic violence and the politics which rage in all communities and institutes.

Back to how historical information can be the perfect springboard. Home Fires was inspired by the book Jam Busters by Julie Summers. Summers’ research through archives and interviews investigates how the Women’s Institute helped rural Britain during World War II with all the jam that they made.  So if reading stuff like that produces such top rate television then you’d better get reading and writing. Some of the best women’s magazines also publish historical fiction so that is a good market to look into too.

A great insight into the lives of women during World War II.

A great insight into the lives of women during World War II.

So without any further ado, let’s springboard a truth.

If we go back to World War I many young men were killed and then to add insult to injury the Spanish Flu epidemic caused the death of so many others that there was actually a shortage of marriageable men at that time. Catching onto this fact, entrepreneurs believed that they could tell women that if they did not look good they would not get a man. Does this sound familiar?

Have you got a double chin

We only have to scour the ladies’ magazines for the first half of the 1920s to see how filled they were with advertisements for body treatments and face creams. At that time, colour illustrations were often only on the front cover of the magazine and so copy writers had to sell their booty by painting pictures with words. The adverts were basically an aggressive attack on women to undermine their confidence. Women would open a magazine to see ‘have you got a double chin?’ looming out at them.

Could you wear a chin strap?

Could you wear a chin strap?

In those days, they did not seem to offer make-up to conceal and enhance the best features of a woman instead they suggested prevention or in some cases what can only be described as physical pain. For instance, you would put moisturiser on your face and then attach the Ganesh chin strap to your head and sleep in it – no wonder we no longer hear of this method of keeping wrinkles at bay.

Could you create a character that uses these methods to add flavour to your story?  Whatever you come up with – happy writing.

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Writing – Make the Past Your Inspiration and Get Pounding that Keyboard

Writing is therapeutic

Stuck for an idea? Well you are in the right place. Here at Loony Literature we are on a mission to make peoples’ lives better by encouraging them to do something creative. We know that it’s not always easy with all the problems that life throws at us but that it why it is even more important to get stuck in – being creative will help you through the hard times.

If you want to write a short story, a play or an article, one of the easiest ways to get an interesting idea is to embrace the past. All you have to do is scroll the web or visit the library and then read about it, before you know where you are, you will be scribbling ideas all over your notepad with an extraordinary flourish.

Getting on with it.

Getting on with it.

Use superstition as a source

To whittle it down, why not look into superstitions of the past and see if anything gets your fingers itching? However, to get you started, we have got a springboard for a murder set in the Tudor period. We hope that it helps.

Superstitions like avoiding walking under ladders have been around for a long time. In fact, if we travel back in time to the Tudor period, it is interesting to see just how superstitious folks were then. Proof of this happened just under five hundred years ago with Sir George Vernon who owned Haddon Hall. Ruling the surrounding area with a stern severity, he dealt with cases of crime with an iron attitude.

For instance, when a pedlar was found murdered, Sir George Vernon investigated. Hawking his goods about the neighbourhood the previous day, the pedlar was spotted entering a cottage in the evening and was not seen alive again. When Sir George found this out, he ordered that the body should be taken to Haddon Hall and laid out there.

Last seen alive

The man who lived in the cottage where the pedlar had last been seen alive was then ordered to go to Haddon Hall. When he arrived, Sir George questioned him but the fellow said that he had no knowledge of the pedlar. His nibs then snatched the sheet from over the dead man and told everyone that they had to touch him. Yikes! In those days, there would be great superstition over doing that if you were the murderer.

Gruesome Times

Gruesome Times

Shrinking back, the pedlar would not put his hands on the body. Sprinting as fast as his legs would carry him out of the hall, he disappeared from sight. Deciding that his suspicions had been right, George ordered his men to pursue the cottager on horseback and hang him on the spot. They finally caught up with him in a field and followed his lordships orders. Sir George had to travel to London to explain himself in court but no further steps were taken.

Happy writing.

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Writing Cosy Crime – Use a Bizarre Club as a Setting

Get Writing

Here at Loony Literature, we have eclectic tastes and one of the genres which we adore is cosy crime. This means that we want more people getting stuck in and writing some wonderful tales. If you need a springboard to get you started, think about setting the crime in a club but not just an everyday club, use something different. We’ve found a few that you may be interested in.

On the 15th January 1904, a newspaper advertisement asked for new members for a club in Fribourg in Switzerland. The club was the Bald Headed Club and its rules were that the members should meet every month to eat ham and listen to music.

Invite the Public Executioner

In April 1928, the Crime Club used to meet in London three times a year to discuss criminology. It was a rule that nothing which was discussed within the club was repeated outside those walls. The club which started off with six eventually increased to forty members. One of the members once suggested that the public executioner should be invited to one of the club’s dinners but he could not get anyone to second him so the idea was dropped.

Apparently, the Thirteen Club gathered so that its members could defy superstitions and would spend the evening walking under ladders and putting up umbrellas whilst indoors.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Some believe that the raven is unlucky.

Meanwhile, The Fatman’s Club in Paris enjoyed its banquets. No one was eligible for membership under seventeen stone. One man proudly polished off half a dozen chickens and a barrel of wine at one sitting and it won him a prize of thousands of francs.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – Getting to Work in 19th Century London

It Wasn’t Easy

Here at Loony Literature, we love to get folks writing.

Writing historical fiction is a great way to learn something and transport yourself to another time and place. Your springboard for today is to imagine that you have an accident on the way to work. The only difference is that it happens in 19th century London. Think about who your character might be and what are the consequences of the accident are – do you get involved with someone you might never have met before? This could be to do with a romance or a crime.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

London Bridge in the 19th century.

To help you get started, we’ve compiled something for you to think about. For instance, you may be interested to know that if you had to travel across London in the 19th century, it was hard work even back then.

If you had an excellent job, you would navigate your way to work on horseback. However, this was indeed a costly business. We complain about the cost of parking these days but if you lived then and the horse was your mode of transport, you had to feed and stable the horse at home and also at a place which was near to where you worked. City livery rates were so exorbitant that many would ride half way on horseback and then the rest of the journey to work would be conducted by boat.

Getting Across The Thames

Of course, the Thames was a sort of highway for London but at the start of the 19th century there were only actually three fixed points to get across it. There was London Bridge which had been a crossing of some sort since Roman times or there was Blackfriars Bridge which was built in 1769 or Westminster Bridge which first came into being in 1750.

This meant that if you needed to travel across the river to get to work you would probably have used one of the 3,000 wherries or small boats which were available for hire. We can read about characters in books being rowed across the Thames, such as the dastardly Quilp in The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – A Pair of Stockings as a Springboard

Get Writing

Here at Loony Literature, we try to get folks to have a go at something  they might not have done before. As both of us are history bonkers, we want more of you to try writing historical pieces. They don’t have to be massive literary tomes, for instance, you could try a short story or even a play.

Readers of historical pieces love details and enjoy learning something as well as being transported in time. The springboard for this piece is a pair of stockings. So you need to think about who did the stockings belong to? Perhaps they were found in the butler’s pantry or if you are a crime writer they might have been used to strangle someone.

What story does this item of clothing tell you?

What story does this item of clothing tell you?

To help you along, we’ve compiled some working knowledge on stockings. You may be interested to know that during the Victorian period, ladies all wore stockings as tights were a 20th century invention. The Victorian stockings were made of cotton, wool or silk and available in a wide range of colours.

At the start of the 1800s, white was all the rage but after 1850 brightly dyed and patterned stockings were available. These were enjoyed by the young and also anyone who wanted something different. They were available in tartan, spotted and checked amongst others designs. This is surprising as it is easy to presume that they would all have been either white or black for the Victorians.

Black stockings

However, as the century went on, the black stockings became more widespread. This demonstrates how symbolic clothes can be. Black stockings in the Victorian period were viewed as conservative whereas black stockings these days signify sexiness.

Wool stockings were often the choice because they were the warmest and the most reasonably priced option. Silk stockings were basically only for the wealthy as they were so expensive. Furthermore, if they laddered, they were difficult to darn which made it time consuming. Only a woman with a personal maid would really have the time to commit to darning silk stockings. Well, it wouldn’t be her own time which she was committing to the task but her maid’s.

These days, suspenders are considered the heights of sexiness by some and again they are a Victorian invention. Women began to hold their stockings up with suspenders in the 1880s. Up until that time, however, stockings were held up by garters which fastened around the leg just above the knee. There was a health risk with wearing garters like that. Varicose veins could start if the garters were too tight and stopped proper circulation.

Happy writing.

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Writing Historical Fiction – Sizing Your Codpiece

Here at Loony Literature, we hope to inspire you to share our creative passions and interests. For instance, working on historical fiction never fails to cause a gargantuan giggle as the research both delights and shocks us. What is more, if any of us, you included, use these delicious details in our writing they will make it sparkle for the reader. So if you write about the Tudors, make sure that you don’t get caught out by having your hero with a wrongly sized cod piece. Flabby fiction will ruin your flow!

Henry VIII codpiece

Fashion for men, changed drastically from when Henry VIII was on the throne to when his daughter ruled the land. The reason, of course, was all to do with symbolism. When Henry was in power, he had to show everyone that he was not just a man but a great giant god of a man. In those days, manhood meant virility and what better way to signal to the world that you are a sex superman than by wearing a colossal protruding cod piece. In the world of the Virgin Queen, the penis could not equate to power so cod pieces positively shrivelled in size at Elizabeth’s court.

Women had to be careful what they displayed during Elizabeth’s reign. Unless you were a vulgar washerwoman at the bottom of the social pile you would never reveal your bare arms or legs in public. However, as long as you were not married you could parade your breasts like Farage does his pint of beer. Apparently, age did not come into it either. If you were unmarried and elderly, you could still wear a dress which let it all hang out. In fact, we know that Elizabeth liked to display her breasts a lot. This was so much so that it was documented when different ambassadors visited and described the royal boobs.

Happy writing.

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