Monthly Archives: May 2015

Writing – What to do when you’re sick to death of your manuscript

One of the many things that writers have in common is that when they have been working on a manuscript for a while, they get to the stage that just looking at it sends them checking their emails, reading the daily horoscope or making yet another cup of coffee. Sounds familiar? If it doesn’t, this is not for you and what is more, I don’t like you either. (Only joking.)

Girl with typewriter

I really don’t think anything can truly relieve the weary author of manuscriptitis and what is more doctors are truly useless if you approach them with it – I know, I have tried. However, I have three tips that might take a little of the pain away.

Visiting doctor

Put a miserly timer on how long you will work on it. This truly does help. If you think that you will spend all Saturday afternoon editing away, you may find that a huge amount of that time is spent staring at it, looking on Amazon or sending very long emails to your friends. However, if you give yourself one hour a day and when your time is up, you are not allowed to do any more – you will work for an hour. It is amazing how much you can get done in one hour that does not have self-imposed interruptions.

An old clock

Work out exactly what you are going to do before your hour starts. If you are really sick of your manuscript, you can waste an hour wondering what your next step should be. Making a checklist at this stage is vital. So for instance, instead of reading your manuscript yet again and generally just looking over it, you will be looking for something specific. This means that you have one hour only to check that you have enough conflict in each scene or whatever you wish to grind away at. You won’t get through the whole manuscript in one hour but what you do get through will be purely focussed and you can continue with that task in your hourly allotment until you have completed it. Continue in this way working through your checklist.

old manuscript

Work from a printed up copy. There are two reasons why this works. One is that your mind sees it as a change from peering at the computer screen and so welcomes it. It also flings mistakes at you that, for some reason, do not seem so apparent on the screen. This are not just clumsy typos either, you will probably be able to see where you have been telling instead of showing and also how you can elaborate on the senses of your character.

Hope this helps. Happy writing.

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Writing – Making sure That Your Pongs Stand Out

When we write narrative, it is important that we embrace all the senses. Smell often gets overlooked because it is easy to forget that as our characters go about their adventures that certain whiffs will travel up their snitches whether they like it or not. To get you started, I want you to think about how when we go into public lavatories, we sometimes wrinkle our noses up because someone has been in before us and left a pungent smell or has not flushed properly. Yes, even modern tales have smells in them.

Public Urinals

If you are writing a historical piece, you have won the Lottery because in the Middle Ages virtually everywhere carried an unpleasant odour. Think about it, it must have been totally pongy because most rubbish ended up in the streets. If we drop something down the sides of a bin and it is not noticed, it smells dreadfully within days, multiply that reek by about fifty and you may be near the mark.

Also, if a butcher killed an animal and sold the meat, he would not discreetly and hygienically get rid of the guts, he would fling it out in the street. Over weeks and months of that practise, the smell must have been putrid.

As for the lavatories, well we know that the town council in London passed a law to try to clean up the streets. This was to have public conveniences built over the river Fleet. This meant that people travelling under the bridge, for instance the boatman, had a constant eyeful of bare buttocks and if they were unlucky much more.

Jester

Cor Blimey! I bet there was a whiff under that lot.

Back in the 14th century folks built loos in strange places and it often landed them in court. In 1321, Thomas Wytte and William Hockele were up before the bench for building a toilet in Ebbgate Lane which was supposed to be a public right of way. Apparently, the lavatories projected from the walls of houses so that human waste fell onto the heads of the people who were innocently walking along that stretch of public highway. Mind you, the fact that they were using loos meant that they were the sophisticates of the day, not everyone bothered with them. In fact, many shared rooms with animals and behaved like them.

So get sniffing up while you write, it may produce some results that make you proud.

Happy writing.

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Finding Inspiration – Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy

Loony Literature headed for Scarborough yesterday in an attempt to find inspiration for both actors, directors and writers alike. Did we find it? We certainly did in a performance of ‘Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy’ at the Stephen Joseph Theatre. In order for you to see how this play is inspirational, we need to explain a little bit about it.

1866 Cox and Box

If we travel back in time to 1866, we find a one act comic opera called Cox and Box by Arthur Sullivan. The basic premise of the plot being that a cheeky landlord lets the same room out to two lodgers. He is able to do this because one works during the day and one works during the night. When one of them has a day off, they clash and tempers flare.

The creators of Cox and Box – Mrs Bouncer’s Legacy adapted the first act and added a sequel to it. In other words, they have used an old piece as a springboard to create something else. Cox is an apprentice hatter who works by day and Box is a printer who works by night. The landlord this time however, is a landlady who is a chap in drag. Both Cox and Box also cross dress as they are played by two females.

Cox and Box, Mrs Bouncer's Legacy

The first act is particularly interesting for anyone who acts or wants to act. It is played out very much as it would have been when it was originally performed. A piano player is on the side of the stage and the blocking works in sequence with the music. This is a must see for would be actors and hopeful directors alike. It is very different from modern theatre and is also helpful if you want to put plays on for children.

The second act is what arose after Chris Monks and Richard Atkinson were inspired by the original one act script. It is set 150 years later in the same room. A recently elected government has repatriated all migrant workers. Twin sisters, Urszula and Krystyna are secretly sharing a room – the very same one – in a run down Bed and Breakfast where their landlord is a member of the UZIP party.

The upshot of this is that if you are seeking inspiration for a play you could find something old and add a modern satirical part to it and hey presto – you could have a show.

When we see the second act, we realise how talented the performers are as they change roles so a huge cheer for Lara Stubbs, Emilia Williams and Darren Southworth.

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Who’s Not In School?

Who’s Not in School is a new picture book written by Ross Mountney, illustrated by James Robinson and published by Bird’s Nest Books. The picture book is unusual as it is about Home Education and as far as I am aware there are not many other picture books which cover this subject, if any.

Who's Not In School

Ross is to Home Education what Mrs Beeton was to household management and has published two other books on the subject, ‘Learning Without School’ and ‘A Funny Kind of Education’. The illustrator, James Robinson is a talented eighteen year old who was Home Educated and it is the first book out with new publishers, Bird’s Nest Books.

Home Education is one of those subjects which tends to cause prejudice through ignorance and it is a shame became families all over the world are successfully educating their children themselves. Luckily, Ross is flying the flag for the subject and making sure that folks know the truth about it. Her memoir, A Funny Kind of Education is a charming, page turner that is not out of place besides other life adventure books like Peter Mayle’s, A Year in Provence. Anyone reading that will soon see the merits of Home Education and be enchanted at the same time.

A Funny Kind of Education

Who’s Not At School is Ross’s latest book to help the world understand that children do not have to go to school to be educated. It’s out today, May 27th 2015 and if you are interested you should have a peek.  Just follow the link.

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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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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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Horrible Histories Series Six First Promotional Pictures

Horrible Histories is so close to my heart that it has a special place right beside it. If you want your children to become engaged in something educational this is the way forward.

The Consulting Detective

Alfred

The BBC have today released the first promotional pictures for the new series of Horrible Histories. Set to air on the 25 of May on BBC 2, the new series focuses on different historical characters for each episode. The first episode focuses on Alfred the Great and his fight against the Vikings. The second episode broadcast on the 1st of June focuses on Boudicca; the third episode focuses on William the Conqueror and is broadcast on the 6th of June; episode four is based around Napoleon’s conflict with Wellington and the rest of Europe and will be shown on the 13th; episode five is about the famed Pharaoh Cleopatra and will be broadcast on the 20th; episode six Oliver Cromwell and his republic which will air on the 27th. Further episodes feature Mary Queen of Scots, Churchill, George III, Queen Victoria and Henry VIII. An outline of the series and some of its guest stars…

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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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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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