Category Archives: Inspiration and Us

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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Filed under Creative Writing, History, Inspiration and Us, The Peculiar Past

Diary of a Writer – Graveyards.

My eyeballs felt as if someone had tried to peel them like an onion.  Actually, it might have been with an onion they were stinging so much. Does terror from staring at a computer screen cause sore eyes?  It was no use, it did not matter how long I glazed over at the manuscript of “Mulgrave Castle”, I was not feeling spooky, Victorian or psychic.  For a second, I played with the idea that somewhere on the internet there could be a sort of Viagra for writers which instead of making them feel sexy sort of erected the atmosphere they were meant to be in.  I didn’t think there would be one and one has to be so careful what one searches for these days.

In a state of desperation, I went from staring at the computer screen to staring out of the window.  I overlook a graveyard and a six hundred year church.  It all looked spooky and I thought I could stare at that to get in the mood. Not so, suddenly car after car arrived on the car park.  The next thing was that a gang of energetic, octogenarian walkers all had their car boots up whilst they took their flasks of coffee out and started drinking and socialising before their walk.   It then occurred to me that I could make some film clips of a graveyard and that might be helpful in summoning up atmosphere anytime I am working on “Mulgrave Castle”.

I grabbed my video camera but couldn’t film at the graveyard next to me as the gang had now taken sandwiches out of their car boots and seemed to be settling down for the day.  After thinking up an elaborate plan to get rid of them, I decided that dressing up in my Loony Literature gear and brandishing a large bell whilst shouting “plague” might not actually work.

I glared some more out of the window and then decided to go to a nearby market town and film there.  I didn’t want to look conspicuous hanging around a graveyard alone so I asked my mother if she fancied going out for hot chocolate.  As she is under five feet tall, just under eighty and looks charmingly innocent, I thought she was the perfect lookout for me.

All was going well, apart from my mother complaining about the lack of hot chocolate, until an elderly man with white, curly whiskers around his chin and leading a similar looking dog tried to cross examine me.

“You one of them family historians then?”  Both dog and man stared at me whilst they waited for a reply.  I was relieved that I didn’t have to lie, after all, I do do family history, I just wasn’t doing it then.  I nodded and waited for him to pass by.

“Who you looking for then?”  Both the man and the dog moved closer.  I would never make a spy, I stammered and stumbled and said “we’ve found nothing.”  He shrugged and I expected him to move on but he still watched us.  I linked my arm through my mother’s and we slowly walked away from the graveyard and then I slyly turned to see if the dog walker had moved on.  He didn’t, he watched us as we walked away but then he bent down to talk to his terrier and at that moment I grabbed my mother by the arm and we hid behind a tree and waited for him to go.   He looked up and shrugged in a disappointed manner and slowly moved away.

We hotfooted it back to the graveyard and I quickly did my filming in case the dog walker found me there again on his way back.  I was extremely pleased with myself as I thought my graveyard filming was done with, I simply had to put it on the laptop and it was ready for use – until I looked at it.  The clip is fine until it comes to second twenty seven and then there seems to be a man only from his torso (legs must be in the earth) with his head bent praying by the side of one of the graves.  I examined the clip but could not come up with what it could really be.

A week later, I decided that I would return to the spot to try to see what I had photographed and take some still shots of the spot.  Four teenagers, without coats, were sitting right by my spot, hanging out.  I had to decide whether to continue with my photography or just pretend to be walking past.    I decided to pretend that they weren’t there.  I examined the spot from all angles making sure that each headstone was where I thought it was.  I could not see what could possibly represent the image on the film.  I took my video camera from my bag and somehow it had become as dead as a parish council meeting on a Saturday night.  I quickly put it away and tried not to look at the teenagers who, I could see out of the corner of my eye, were all sitting in a line staring at me.  Luckily, I had my son’s camera with me as a backup, so I quickly took that out and tried to switch it on – dead.  I poked the on button and prodded it frantically.  The teenagers had moved closer but I could not contain my enthusiastic and violent prods onto the camera.  Nothing happened.  I lifted my head proudly and with a majestic air swept past the viewing teenagers with my mother following swiftly behind. How both batteries on both cameras came to be so dead, I will never know.  My video camera had one hundred minutes on it when I checked the night before.

The following Saturday I made sure that both cameras were fully charged when I set out.  I managed to take photographs without an audience but I cannot find out what the shape is in the video.  After all that, I’ve decided that maybe I should try something else to conjure up atmosphere.  Haunted castle anyone?

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Writing – Using Real People in Fiction Can Spell Trouble!

Victorian Lady Portrait

Victorian Lady Portrait (Photo credit: Aminimanda)

The other day, I was telling my son about a dead relative whose personality I have partly used when creating Jane Snow, my heroine’s paid companion and fellow detective in Mulgrave Castle.  My relative had a strange notion that when a man smiled at her, he had certain ideas because the chaps were too frisky for their own good.  One of the theme’s I want to explore in this series of Victorian psychic novels is female desire in the Victorian era as I became very interested in how it was used in Literature whilst a student.  Although, I have used Jane Snow’s attitude to males in a comic way because it was something which was both amusing and endearing in my relative, I think she might react badly if she knew that this aspect of Jane’s character is based on her.  I think she might see it as being laughed at instead of understanding that it is celebrating the fact that she was such a character.  Although, to be honest, I wonder if she would identify herself with the character, she might not.

 

 

The reason I say that my relative might not recognise herself is because of a story I was told when I was doing a course on scriptwriting.  The writer who took the course was a playwright and a television scriptwriter.  He was adamant about only using one aspect of a person’s personality when creating your own characters.  The reason for this was personal experience.  He had written a television drama and used a few aspects of the personality of a woman who was in his circle of friends as one of the characters; at the time of writing, he thought that he had disguised her well enough for no-one to know whom he had based the character on.

 

 

After the drama was screened, he was shocked that most of the circle of friends identified the woman whom he had used as a character.  Fortunately, the woman did not recognise herself and none of the others pointed it out to her.  The experience was enough to convince him though that we should never use more than one aspect of a person’s personality traits when creating a character.

 

 

On the other hand, I created the character, Will Blyton based on my son, Will and am writing a second book about him.  Often, I will read a part out to him and he will call me a cheeky so and so because I am depicting a real live occurrence.  He knows I am writing about a character based on him and likes the fact that he is my muse.  However, if he did not, I would not do it.

 

 

So what about you?  Have you ever written about someone and they have recognised themselves?  Do you use aspects of real life people at all when creating characters?  Do tell!

 

 

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Writing – Are you a butterfly or a mole?

Writing - Are you a butterfly or a mole?

Is it better to flutter from project to project?

 

At the moment, I am questioning whether I am using the best strategy for my writing career.  I am adopting the butterfly method whereby I flit from children’s fiction to children’s plays to adult fiction.  (By adult fiction, I don’t mean X rated stuff, I simply mean books for adults.  The reason I am explaining this is that I had an embarrassing incident years ago when donating videos to my child’s school fair.  All the ones I had seen donated were videos for children, so I asked if they accepted adult ones – the teaching assistant thought I meant porn and coloured highly when I thrust my “Pride and Prejudice into her hand.)

I am a writing butterfly, I flicker back and forth working on both adult and children’s fiction and I wonder whether I would be more effective if I was a mole, digging and focusing on one tunnel or book until I had reach my goal.

Being a butterfly has its positive aspects in that it keeps the writing schedule fresh and lively.  It also means that if children think my kids’ stuff reeks, their mothers’ might like my physic detective.  In other words, I’m not putting all my eggs into one basket as the old saying goes.

I do feel that being a butterfly has its negative side especially when it comes to marketing.  It means trying to interest two sets of audience, which as any writer knows attracting a single one can be tough going, initially.  It also means that I constantly have more than one plot, setting and set of characters going around in my head which can be like living inside a bee hive at times.

When I talk about being a mole, I must clarify that I mean someone who works on a particular novel but also has a blog and writes articles etc…   I don’t mean that they only work on the novel they are writing at the time and nothing else whatsoever.  The positive side to being a mole is that we can concentrate wholly on the piece we are working on, we might have ideas for future books in our heads but if it is a series with the same main character, it all helps to know this person better.  I think it is the same with marketing, if we are sticking mainly to say writing vampire stories for adults, we can aim all our marketing energy into the one market; the output is far better targeted than that of the butterfly writer.

The negative side to being a mole writer is that the writing atmosphere could become a little staid for the writer after a period of time.  Fundamentally, I think that the main problem is that if the mole concentrates for instance, completely on a series with an alien detective and it flops, the mole needs to start again; obviously, this is not a problem if the series is a hit.

I have to say that as a butterfly writer, I do question whether I would be better off being a mole.  So what are you and is this because you have a strategy or is it because it is the only way for you to write?

Writing - Are you a butterfly or mole?

Being focused hits the spot.

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Writing – Great Aunt Bertha at The Asylum.

Frankenstein's Revenge

It’s all go in The Laboratory.

Things are frantic at The Laboratory at  the moment.  We have a children’s play “Frankenstein’s  Revenge” being thrust on the public  at Hallowe’en and I am researching and editing Mulgrave Castle which is about the psychic Victorian detective, Harriet Twine.  Therefore, I thought I would share with you how I am getting myself in the mood for both writing and marketing.

The other week I went to Lincoln prison,  a Victorian gaol in Lincoln Castle, to help me envisage what it must be like to feel like a Victorian lady. Lincoln is a wonderful place for creating writing atmosphere and this weekend, the old asylum at Lincoln will host the biggest Steampunk Festival in Europe.  The simplest way to explain Steampunk is that it is a mixture of Victoriana and Sci Fi – that is a very loose term but it gets you in the picture if you are not au fait with Steampunk.

I find that I have a Steampunk heart as the motto is “Be Splendid!”  This basically means that we should show wonderful manners and try to dress with elegance.  This really appeals to me because I hate bad manners and I love costumes.  So I decided that if anywhere was going to get me in the mood for embracing my fictional Victorian world, it has to be The Asylum.

The costume is ready – almost – but then I thought of all the folks turning up with their gadgets and inventions in the true Victorian spirit.  This was when I decided that as I had been inspired by Frankenstein, I would take my invention from The Laboratory to the Asylum.

Here is a short film about the invention I’m taking to the Asylum.  If after watching it you can’t decide whether I should actually be in the Asylum or I have just got a whacky sense of humour –can you come down on the side of the latter please?

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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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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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