Category Archives: Inspiration and Us

Writing Workshop – 5 Great Ways To Place A Twist On Putting Your Character In A Coffee House

charles-dickens-for-writing-blog-post

When people ask what can I write about, it is often answered by ‘write what you know’. This is good advice but I would like to offer you a twist on that. Think about the things that you do in your own life and then let your character do them but in a different time. It means that you will have to do some research but this always helps with ideas and the flavour of the piece that you are writing.

One – Find an atmospheric setting

Let me give you an example. You probably go to a coffee house and could easily set a story there so how about doing that but setting it in the past? Wouldn’t this make your story stand out that bit more?

old-london-coffee-house

Let’s explore the situation. For a start, it is easy to imagine that coffee houses are something invented by us modern folks but that is not true. The reality is that if you pop down St Michael’s Alley which is a passage in London you will find a blue plaque on the wall of a wine house. The plaque states that the original London coffee house stood on that site and opened in 1652.  Just from that we have a place and a time that could send your mind buzzing with ideas.

Springboard 1 – A story set in 1652 in St Michael’s Passage, London when a new fangled coffee house is just opening. Imagine how the owner must feel.

Two – Find some larger than life characters

samuel-johnson

Many coffee houses sprang up in the 17th and 18th century and they were extremely important because it was where men met to do business and share ideas. We know from records that many men who were involved with the arts and scientific enquiry frequented coffee houses. Wren, Dryden, Reynolds, Johnson, Swift, Gainsborough, Garrick and Hogarth, to name but a few, were regularly seen discoursing over their passions in coffee houses. There we have a wonderful set of characters. It only takes a little bit of research and some poetic licence and you have a story about one of them.

Springboard 2 – A story about Wren, Dryden, Reynolds, Johnson, Swift, Gainsborough, Garrick or Hogarth getting into a troublesome situation in a coffee house.

Three – Create some domestic conflict

mary-w-the-rights-if-woman

In fact, it is believed that many insurance companies and other financial businesses started as a result of deep debates in coffee houses. It has been suggested that men spent so much time in coffee houses that they were often more associated with their regular haunt than where they actually lived.  If men were at the coffee house more than at home this could cause marital rifts – this is a good plot line.  If you want to use an idea following this line, I have actually written about this on the post ‘Trouble in the Coffee House – Get Writing.’

Springboard 3 – A man would rather spend more time at the coffee house than at a home with his wife.

Four – Have a coffee house trail

outside-a-coffee-house

It wasn’t just the capital that boasted coffee houses either. Oxford and Cambridge both had coffee houses and Bristol is recorded as having 4 by 1666. There was at least one in York by 1669 and others in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dublin. Exeter, Bath, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Chester, Preston and Warwick also had coffee houses. This means that you don’t have to set your story in the capital, you have a wealth of settings to choose from. In fact, you could use coffee houses as a trail.

Springboard 4 – A man is on a secret mission that leads him around various coffee houses until he ends up in a coffee house in York about 1700. Who is he meeting there?

Five – Use details from your research to cannon ball your plot

coffee-house-sign

However, it was London, because of the business which was carried out in them, which had the most coffee houses and it is said that by 1714, there were at least 1,000 coffee houses there then. The houses were usually identified by a hanging sign; however, in 1762 all such signs, except at public houses, were banned.  It seems their creaking at night stopped folks from sleeping. Furthermore, if you were trotting along on a horse on a windy day, you could be knocked right off your mount by one of those blasted signs. This actually happened. Basically, the signs had become a menace to society and that is why they had to go. We can use details like this both to add authenticity to our story and to amuse our readers.

Springboard 5 – A man is knocked off his horse by a coffee house sign and a comely woman helps him – is she as kind and good as she seems to be or does she have ulterior motives?

Inspiration is everywhere – I hope that I have offered you some today. Happy writing.

 

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Filed under Creative Writing, History, Inspiration and Us, Writing Workshop

Trouble in the Coffee House? Get Writing.

Writing is good for your spirit and you don’t have to stay in to do it. It’s really good fun to go to a coffee house armed with your writing paraphernalia and to set your short story in there. If you really want to chance your arm you can create characters for your story from the other folks that are supping coffee around you. Whatever you do, don’t let them see. Coffee gets some people excited and you don’t want a black eye when all you are doing is creating a story.

coffe-house-1

Take down the details of the room you are sitting in and you have a setting readymade. Of course, if you wish to add or take away from that, you can do. This is the beauty of writing fiction; you can build the world to suit yourself.

Sneakily look at the people sitting nearest to you. Are they story fodder? If not, why not? If it’s an elderly couple that are talking about the cost of drinking chocolate, don’t forget that everyone has a past. She could have been a spy during World War II. He could be a retired private detective. Basically, they can be whatever you want them to be – run with your fantasy.

coffee-house-2

For those that love historical fiction, you will find that coffee houses have been around for a while and so if you wish to write a historical piece and set it in the coffee house then that is no problem. In fact, if you read on, you will find a true and hilarious situation that you can use as a basis for your story, if you so wish.

If you love popping out to the coffee house to have a good laugh and titillating gossip with your mates, you may be interested to know that this type of behaviour has been going on since the 17th century. However, back then it was purely the male that frequented the coffee house. Men would spend hours making business contacts and talking about politics in the coffee house. This did not go unnoticed by their female counterparts and trouble started to brew. (Do forgive the pun.)

Sterile and impotent

Women who were fed up of being coffee widows got together and published a hard hitting pamphlet. “The Women’s Petition Against Coffee” (1674) suggested that when men drank coffee daily it made then sterile and impotent. Obviously, this was a cause for concern in society because it would mean a reduction in the birth rate.

Women tearfully told how their husbands were turning their backs on them to enjoy the company of their peers in the coffee houses. They spoke of how this action threatened the social and economic future of the country because men were becoming incapable of fulfilling their marital duties. One woman even declared that all that coffee drinking ‘made men as unfruitful as the sandy deserts where the unhappy berry is said to be brought’.

For a moment, the men were truly speechless but only for a moment. They rallied back with “The Men’s Answer to the Women’s Petition.” They were having none of it and were rather blunt in their reply. The men suggested that drinking coffee made the erection more vigorous and then went into detail about how it actually made the sperm more potent. In other words, they fought back saying that coffee would actually make the birth rate rise.

coffee-house-3

Well that is certainly something to write about. You could write a television sitcom or a short play. It doesn’t have to be a short story. The whole idea of the exercise is to get you into the coffee shop setting and then to let your mind run wild. I think that you will be pleasantly surprised at how much you enjoy doing this. Just remember not to put pressure on yourself to produce War and Peace, this is meant to be fun.  Anything that has been written can always be improved upon at a later date if you so wish. For the time being, just have a giggle.

 

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

Why we need to get kids into Shakespeare in Primary School

We at Loony Literature headed up to Hull Truck Theatre last week to see the RSC perform The Famous Victories of Henry V – this is a play, for kids, that brings together all the exciting moments of three plays – Henry IV parts I and II and Henry V.

We need more of this

Basically, we need more of this – it is that simple. We have mentioned before that some teenagers can spend more than three years getting a GSCE grade C in English Language which includes a Shakespeare play. This is because they study it for two years at school but if do not get a C or above, they have to do it again.

We have also said to anyone who will listen that kids need to be introduced in a fun manner to Shakespeare in primary school not in secondary school. By the time they study a play at secondary school they need to be relaxed about The Bard. The Famous Victories of Henry V by the RSC was everything and more than we could have wished for.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Simon Yadoo as Sir John Falstaff in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

The cast was made up of young actors apart from the extra talented  Simon Yadoo who played Falstaff/Henry V. The energy of the players was electric as the young actors went among the audience before the play started making sure that they knew what the plot was.

The name of the game at this event was audience participation – those actors worked that audience as if they were back in Elizabethan England. There were props handed out to some of the children and they had to give them to certain characters during the play.

The audience were taught a song about Falstaff’s wine which everyone sang with vigour while waving their arms about. This was obviously a winner as a group of girls sang it loudly in the lavatory after the performance.

A young boy of about eight sat behind us and he had to stand up and shout. He was truly earnest and we were certain that that little boy would never forget that moment all his life. His eyes showed that.

We want them to laugh until their sides ache

The RSC have also taken this production into some schools and we need more of this for our country’s children. Shakespeare is meant to be performed; this is the second item that we need for kids. We need them to experience crafted actors, like Martin Bassindale who played Henry V, bringing the characters to life. We want them to laugh until their sides ache like they did at this production when Mistress Quickly, played by Daniel Abbott, shook his bosom at them.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

Dale Mathurin as John, Martin Bassindale as Prince Hall, Daniel Abbott as Mistress Quickly and Nicholas Gerard-Martin as Dericke in The Famous Victories of Henry V. Photo by Richard Lakos.

When kids have experienced this they will begin to understand what the Bard is all about. One teacher said that before the RSC visited their school, they used to have the ‘collective groan’ when Shakespeare was mentioned but now there was excitement in the air.

Schools need to go to more theatre trips and more theatre companies need to be working with them, hand in hand. We don’t only want the kids of our country being introduced to Shakespeare in this manner, we want them to see Frankenstein making his monster and Dr Jekyll transforming into Mr Hyde.

We have a world famous literary heritage

As with everything, a major problem is budget. We are not experts on these matters but surely putting money into the problem when kids are in primary school would balance out all those English GSCEs that teenagers are resitting around the country. We are talking hundreds of thousands of resits here, not a mere few.

We have a world famous literary heritage and it is only when we make our kids proud of it will the level of GCSE resits drop.

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Filed under Education, Exciting Excursions, Help Your Child To Be Sucessful, Inspiration and Us, Shakespeare Diary, theatre in education

Writing – Make your romance specific

Fancy writing a romance but all you keep coming up with is boy works in office and meets girl? You could try the following exercise to make your romance specific. Take a famous couple from history and write about them. The best way to do this is to research them first so that you know who they are, how they met and what happened to them.

punch-and-judy

You have to fill in the details

If at this point, you think that you would just be writing a piece of history, what you have to remember is that with most peoples’ relationships we only have the bare bones of it no matter how famous they were. This means that when important things happened between them, you have to imagine what went on and fill in the details.

Mary Shelley

For instance, you could write about Mary Shelley and her husband, Percy. Mary is the mother of science fiction because she wrote ‘Frankenstein’ and Shelley is one of our most loved poets. He was also a member of the aristocracy. When we read about their courtship and their life together, it is far more interesting than many novels. Even though we have lots of information on them and their travels we have to fill in what happened when they were alone together and that is where the fiction writer’s imagination comes to life. We have to become Mary when she met Percy and ran away with him. In other words, you can take your own personal feelings and fuse it with historical fact to reach authenticity with your writing.

Happy Writing.

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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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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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