Tag Archives: creative writing

Writing Historical Fiction – Don’t Drop A Bloomer

If the weather and the government are getting up your pip then you should cheer yourself up with a bit of historical writing. It is pure escapism as you forget the world you live in and adventure into another time. However, beware of making historical bloomers – a typical one is having women wearing knickers too early on.

Fancy a pair of these?

Fancy a pair of these?

Strange though it may seem, up until the late 19th century women did not wear knickers. Yes, knickers are yet another invention of the Victorian era. Of course, they were not called knickers back then but drawers. For a Victorian woman, the drawers would have consisted of two separate knee length legs drawn together with a waistband. This means that her nether regions were left uncovered which is rather bizarre as we tend to think of knickers as a garment which cover those parts which we do not mention.

Initially, the drawers were regarded with hostility. They were viewed as nothing more than an imitation of men’s underclothing. This in itself was offensive to female respectability and virtue. To truly understand this we have to imagine that opinions often came from what the Bible suggested and wearing clothes of the opposite sex was frowned upon.

We also need to understand that the drawers were simply seen as an extra layer and that was associated with prostitution. A prostitute would wear an extra garment so that she could add to her client’s titillation as she had more layers to remove.

On top of that, women in European countries had started wearing drawers. The fact that French women wore them added more resistance against wearing them as the Victorian women thought the French woman was rather fast. If there was one thing a respectable Victorian lady did not want to be viewed as was racy.

Happy writing.

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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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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 Short Stories – Using Gruesome Keepsakes as a Springboard

Here at Loony Literature, we are always looking for springboards to get folks writing. So if you are thinking of writing a short story, you may be interested to know that buying a keepsake when you visited somewhere or experienced something is not a new thing. However, in the 19th century some of the keepsakes which were purchased were rather gruesome to say the least. In essence, they were real short story fodder.

Murder Most Horrid.

Murder Most Horrid.

For instance, when Burke, of the famous Hare and Burke duo of body snatchers, was to be executed, 20,000 people cheered as the scaffold was built. When Burke appeared, the mob went wild screaming what they would personally like to do to him. Every time Burke convulsed as his body was hanged, the crowd raised an even louder roar, a sort of cheer because he was suffering so much.

A wallet was made from his scalp

When Burke’s body was removed from the scaffold, souvenir hunters descended like scavengers grabbing at shavings from the coffin or pieces of the rope. If this seems strange, it was quite normal back then. The rope which hanged Burke would have been sold off in inches because so many people wanted a keepsake of the event. In fact, a wallet was made from Burke’s scalp and is now in the History of Surgery Museum in Edinburgh’s Royal College of Surgeons.

A Grisly Day Out.

A Grisly Day Out.

After he had been cut down, Burke’s body was taken to an anatomy theatre which was ironic as that was where he had taken the bodies of the folks he had murdered so that he could get money for them. A cast was taken of Burke’s head and then a dissection was performed. Outside people fought to get inside to taste a piece of the action. The next day, there was a display of the body and visitors could file past it from ten in the morning until dusk. It is believed that as many as 30,000 people turned up to see Burke’s body.

Come on, this is asking for you to write a horror story.

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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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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